Monthly Archives: February 2017

Captain America: Civil War – Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow

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There is very little in the Black Widow’s life that is straightforward.  While competent and practical, Natasha has not always made the right decision in every situation.  This is normal enough; everyone makes mistakes.  It is part of being human.

The problem comes when a person refuses to admit and acknowledge that he has blundered.  Cap is quite willing to admit that he and his team have made mistakes.  It is impossible not to do so.  The idea that slip-ups can be eradicated from humanity is silly.  The sad thing is that some of the Avengers have been infected by this notion that accidents, errors, and mistakes can be “removed” from humanity.  These Avengers would be none other than Tony Stark, James Rhodes, Vision, and Natasha Romanoff.

Now Vision has an excuse, because he is a one-year-old who is still learning about the world from the position of an adult.  Tony, Rhodey, and especially Natasha, do not have any such shield.  They are older and they have far more experience.  They should know better; they should know how to close their ears to such siren calls.  Unfortunately, neither the guys nor Natasha appear to have learned their lessons.

Our first look at Natasha is in Lagos, Nigeria.  And one of the most obvious things about her appearance is that she has again let her hair grow out.  Changing hairstyles, however, are soon shown to be the least of the upgrades Natasha has made.  It is shown that she has also moved up to the full-bore “stingers” of the comics.  These neat little gizmos fire out miniature bolts or “stingers” which act as tazers, minus the strings.  They can deliver up to 30,000 volts into an opponent’s body and they hurt.

But apparently they do not bother Crossbones very much.  Perhaps he now has a far higher tolerance for pain than he did previously.  After Widow tries to zap him unconscious or at least dizzy, he simply rolls his neck and proclaims, “That don’t work on me no more!”  Rumlow then ungraciously beats her up and throws her into his own attack vehicle, tossing in a grenade for good measure.  Natasha downs the two goons sharing the improvised hearse with her, using one as a shield to block the worst of the explosion.  But she is still left gasping and groaning on the ground afterward.

Once she is able to get up and move around, her next act is to track down two of the four mercenaries helping Crossbones and possibly carrying the bio-weapon he has stolen.  Lucky her, the prey she is chasing happens to have the germ in hand.  And they are quite willing to drop the bug on the ground so that it will infect the city and spread out from there.  Only the timely arrival of Sam’s drone, Redwing, allows her to grab the bottled death and save everybody.

There follows a cute trading of quips as Sam tells her to thank Redwing instead of him, with Widow maintaining that she will not, under any circumstances, thank a machine.  Sam’s suggestion that she pet Redwing probably went over like a lead balloon, too.

The moment ends when three floors of a skyscraper are destroyed by Rumlow’s failsafe plan, twenty-six people are killed, and Wanda lands in the media hot seat for not paying as much attention to her surroundings as she could have.  Yay….

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With this big PR mess in the Avengers’ collective lap – the biggest since Age of Ultron – Secretary of State Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross swoops in for the kill.  Raised in the Soviet mold from childhood, Natasha has never quite shaken off its the residual influences.  No, she is not a Communist or a Soviet, the main proof of this being her respect for and her love of children.  Under the Communist regime, children were taught to spy on their parents and report them to the government for any number of “traitorous” activities, especially teaching or practicing Christianity.

Natasha has not forgotten that the government is bigger than her, stronger than her, and if it decides to hurt her it can do whatever it wants to her – and no one will be able to stop it.  This is the legacy of the Red Room in Natasha’s life.  They not only made her their weapon, forcing her to kill people in their place, they abused her in order to make her their “hand.”  Along with the other girls the Red Room operators did their best to “mold” her to their design, resulting in a finished product without soul and scant – if any – of her individual self remaining.

Recognizing that the U.N. wants to shut the Avengers down, Natasha becomes afraid.  Having escaped from the prison that was the Soviet Union, only to become chained to a SHIELD that had been corrupted by HYDRA, Natasha truly desires to fight for truth, justice, and the American Way.  She wants to make a difference, she wants to save lives.  The best way to do that is by maintaining her Avengers’ membership.

But remembering all the things she has done wrong in the past, Natasha decides that she may need oversight at this time in her career.  She says as much in the discussion in the Compound.  Then Tony points out that she has, for the first time in living memory, publicly agreed with him and she admits that she wants to take her words back.  Even while she is holding out her hands and waiting for the cuffs to be slapped on her wrists, Natasha admits that she really does not want to do this.

That is what she said about the Red Room’s “graduation ceremony,” too, though, and we know her protests did not stop that.

The next time we see Natasha, she is talking to Steve after Peggy Carter’s funeral.  He knows that there is more than mere friendliness in her visit.  Though the vote was split on whether or not to sign the Accords as a team, Ross’ deadline has come and gone.  Natasha and the others have agreed to put on the invisible shackles the U.N. wanted them to wear.  That was obvious in the meeting.

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Having lost the last, best link to his old life, dreams, and aspirations, this news is more than Steve feels that he can bear.  You can hear it in the way his voice creaks as he asks, “Then why are you here?”  The die is cast.  The Rubicon has been crossed.  War is looming, because Cap will not rescind his membership in the Avengers, and he will not bow to the tyrants in the U.N. who are demanding that he kneel before them.  But some of his teammates, his friends, have done this.  This can only mean one thing: war.

This is the first time Natasha has ever seen Steve on the brink of breaking down.  She has never known him to be anything less than rock solid, just like the planet she stands on.  But with his voice nearly cracking, it hits her just how much pain he is in.  The loss of Peggy is bad enough; her death on top of the Accords, the division of his team, is overwhelming for him.  He is dangerously close to an emotional collapse.

Natasha’s reply is a shaky one as she tries not only to keep her empathy from spilling over, but to hold herself together despite her fear and the premonition of impending disaster.  “I didn’t want you to be alone,” she answers.  Following this, for the first time in recorded Marvel Cinematic history, she throws down the emotional barricade she uses to protect herself and hugs Steve.

It has to be one of the most powerful scenes in the movie.  I was stunned, and not by Cap’s emotions; I sympathized with him keenly.  But Natasha’s response to him was astounding.  She has never been what one would call touchy-feely; she prefers to keep her emotional distance from most people.  Bruce was a notable exception – and a surprising one.

This makes her hugging Steve Rogers when he is so emotionally low an enormous event.  They are close friends, but the only one Natasha has ever let inside the “garden gate” of her emotional domain that we have seen is Clint.  And they never touched each other in that encounter, since the circumstances and time were not on their side.  Her decision to hug Steve when he is at his lowest ebb, to be an emotional support for him in such a painful moment – this is huge, readers.  It is out of the usual bounds of her character.  Black Widow is typically the epitome of the “suck it up and move on” mentality.  And so when she ends up in the emotional dumps, it is her friends who need to support her.

But here she is, hugging Steve Rogers when he really needs a friend.  She is the one giving moral support, and to a man we think would never need it.  Here Natasha disregards all of her customary caution in order to be an emotional life preserver for Captain America.  It is a momentous decision, and it colors a lot of what she does later in the movie….

…Starting with her attendance of the ratification of the Sokovia Accords.  Having spent most of her life out of the public eye, Widow looks completely ill at ease amidst the dignitaries, journalists, et al within in the U.N. building.  But when a polite young black man comes up and addresses her, she manages to relax a little.

At least, she relaxes until the King of Wakanda, her conversation partner’s father, walks up and greets her.  Then she realizes the young man she has been trading easy banter with is none other than the prince and heir apparent to the kingdom of Wakanda:  T’Challa.

When T’Chaka brings up the fact that Steve has not signed the Accords and is not even attending the ratification of the law, Widow swallows.  Their last meeting being what it was, and the knowledge that she is essentially breaking faith with a man who has never broken faith with her, means that T’Chaka’s words make Natasha very uncomfortable.  Hiding her feelings as best she can, she thanks T’Chaka and then quickly but politely goes to find her seat.

Listening attentively to the King of Wakanda’s speech not long afterward, Natasha is almost as startled by his son’s warning shout as everybody else.  Then her well-honed combat instincts kick in, allowing her to help the person seated next to her dive for cover –

And then there is an explosion, glass is flying, and smoke is clawing its way down her throat.  By the time she gets up – and as an Avenger, I would think it was a very short time – Natasha realizes that several people have died in the blast.  King T’Chaka is among them, but his son has somehow survived.  The scene following the explosion, which shows T’Challa trying to find his father’s pulse and then breaking down into tears as it becomes clear he is dead, is probably the first thing Natasha saw when she got out from under the table.

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While she barely knows T’Challa, Natasha finds herself once again in the position of offering what comfort she can to a wounded soul.  Where Steve knew he needed the supporting strength of a true friend, though, T’Challa’s pain pushes everything except the ache in his heart away from him.  Natasha is not pushed back as far as some.  She was there and saw what happened; she understands at least a little about T’Challa and his relationship with his father.  So he does not push her away completely.  He makes it clear, though, that she can no more dissuade him from his mission to hunt down his father’s murderer than anyone else could.

Natasha watches him go and sighs.  What a hell of a day it has been for her.  As if things were not bad enough, now Steve’s old friend has been thrown into the mix.  And the new king of Wakanda is determined to kill him.  Yippee….

Things go from bad to worse when Steve calls her and asks if she is okay.  Hearing the European sirens on the phone line, Natasha realizes Steve is not far away, possibly watching her.  And if he is this close, then he knows that Bucky has been accused of the bombing.

Knowing Steve as well as she does, Natasha rightly surmises that he intends to go after Bucky himself.  Since he did not agree to the Accords, which are now law, this will make him an international vigilante and criminal, along with whoever helps him in any way.  That earlier foreboding of impending disaster growing inside her soul, Natasha desperately tries to make Steve reconsider what he is going to do.  But having been in a similar situation when Loki bespelled Hawkeye, she knows she will not be able to discourage him.  When Steve makes it plain he will be going after Bucky, to hell with the Accords, Natasha blurts out, “Why?!

Steve points out the obvious: if Bucky has truly gone off the deep end, only he stands a chance of bringing him in without dying in the attempt.  The other unspoken point which Natasha knows is that, if Bucky is somehow innocent of the bombing, Cap will not leave his old friend to be murdered for a crime he did not commit.

Now she has two people hunting the same man, each with totally different objectives in mind.  Great.  Just great.

Later, after German Special Forces bring Cap, Falcon, T’Challa, and Bucky in, Natasha cannot help rubbing Steve’s face in it a little bit.  “See?” she says.  “This is what worse looks like.”

Translation: “Now everybody wants your star-spangled hide along with Barnes’.  And Sam’s jet pack would go well with both, in their opinion. You have just made everything so much harder for all of us with your blind sentiment for this guy.”

The translation of Steve’s response – “He’s alive” – is this:  “I’d have done it for any one of you, Natasha.  And this war was not my idea.  It wasn’t Bucky’s, either.  I’m not blind, I know he’s not who he used to be, but the fact is that something else is going on here which we don’t see yet.  Keep your eyes open.”

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Natasha does this, which means that she sees Sharon Carter turn on the intercom so Steve can hear Bucky’s “evaluation.”  Instead of tattling on them, or going in herself to shut off the intercom, Natasha simply turns away and acts as though she saw nothing.  Why?

It is hard to say.  Maybe she has been playing with the situation in her head for the last few minutes, too, and has noticed that something is not adding up.  Like the others, she still assumes that Steve is too blinded by sentiment to see what a danger Bucky can be.  Either way, something must have been niggling at her, though friendship alone would have demanded that she “see nothing” for a moment.

Not long after this, the lights go out and Bucky gets loose.  Natasha knows that Steve and Sam have nothing to do with knocking out the base’s power.  It is not their style.  Besides which, Steve does not want to use underhanded tactics to clear Bucky.  He wants the truth.

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With Tony and Sharon’s help, Natasha attempts to bring down the Winter Soldier.  But things go about as well this time as they did before, and the pre-programmed detachment which has overwritten his mind means that Bucky is quite willing to kill her – again.  What is different this time is that it is T’Challa who comes to her rescue, not Steve.  (Working his way up from the bottom of an elevator shaft, he had a good excuse.)

After this battle Steve, Sam, and Bucky fly the coop.  Then Ross barges into the building as Natasha and Tony are licking their wounds, telling them that things have gotten out of hand completely again and he is the one who has been deputized to clean up the mess.  Natasha, growing more and more uncomfortable with Ross’ threats, finally growls, “What happens when the shooting starts – are you going to kill Captain America?”

It is her only ace in the hole: the U.S. government would not kill their beloved national icon –

Right?

Ross crushes that hope faster than he would a cigarette.  “If we’re provoked,” is his flat retort.  Tony, as desperate to protect Steve as Natasha is, talks Ross into giving them time to track down and catch the three on their own.  After all, there is no way any unit of men and women – short of the whole U.S. military, Ross’ bludgeon of choice – could bring down two Avengers and a former Soviet killing machine.

Ross agrees to the bargain, but states that they only have thirty-six hours, not the requested seventy-two.  He stomps off and Tony leans back in his seat with a tired sigh.  This is again a case of the remedy being worse than the disease – if the freedom to be responsible and to do your duty can be deemed a “disease.”  The Accords have not saved or helped anyone.  They have only led to more injury and death.  And, even without Bucky’s presence in this kerfuffle, the U.N. and Ross would be using the bombing to tear the Avengers apart.  Ross admitting that they will kill Cap if he gets in their way has nothing to do with his affection for his old pal Bucky.  It has everything to do with the fact that he is operating outside of Ross’ and the U.N.’s control.

Natasha and Tony discuss their options, with Widow observing that the numerical odds are not in their favor.  Tony asks if she has any idea of where the Hulk may be, to which she asks, “Do you really think he would be on our side?”  Thus the Hulk remains “lost” for the rest of the film, prompting the two to go off to recruit new allies.

Tony zips away to Queens to pick up Spider-Man while Natasha goes downstairs to recruit T’Challa, almost fighting a member of the Dora Milaje in the process.  I agree with the Black Panther: it would be highly entertaining to see the Black Widow in a match with a member of the King of Wakanda’s bodyguard/ceremonial wives corps.  While my money is on Natasha winning the engagement, the thing is that it would be an amazing duel to watch.  Popcorn and a soft drink would be mandatory for the viewing.

Now we come to the battle which has been brewing since Ross proposed the Accords:  the Avengers, divided into two factions, fight each other in an evacuated German airport.  Natasha has been sensing it coming, like the buildup of a thunderstorm in the air.  She knew it was on the horizon.  She just hoped it could be avoided.

But it cannot be circumvented, not now.  Things have gone too far – Team Iron has gone too far.  This is shown most pointedly when Natasha nearly kicks her old partner in the head, only to be stopped by the Scarlet Witch.

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Wanda’s response to Natasha’s attack is actually very controlled and not nearly as hard as it could be.  Remember, the girl dropped something like ten cars onto Iron Man’s head.  T’Challa and Rhodey both get harder treatment from her as well; she threw Black Panther about a football field away from Bucky to save his life, and she had no problem banging Rhodey in the head with whatever big, heavy metallic objects were nearby.  So she has no qualms about playing rough.

In marked contrast, she threw Natasha a much shorter distance.  Though she threw her hard enough to keep her down, she could have done far worse.  Instead, she just whammed Natasha into a small trailer hard enough to put a decent dent in the metal and keep Widow out of the fight.

This is probably where that scene from the trailer, which I noted early last year in the post “Captain America: Civil War – Trailer 2 Break Down,” came from.  While it is cut from the theater version of the film, I bet that the scene of Natasha standing up in front of that trailer, tears forming in her eyes, fits into the fight not long after Wanda tells Clint that he was “pulling [his] punches.”

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Why does Natasha begin to cry?  She begins to cry for the same reason that we flinched, whimpered, and bit back moans as we watched certain parts of the battle in the airport the first time.  She is watching her battle family as it is torn apart.  And she is realizing that this is not Steve’s fault; he is just doing his job.  Even if Bucky were not involved in this fiasco, Steve would be here.  He is, as Ultron pointed out, “God’s righteous man.”  He serves God, and when God’s laws are broken – as they were in Vienna – Cap is going to go after the perpetrator because it is the right and just thing to do.  The rest of the people on Team Cap are the same way.

But what about Team Iron?  Why are they here?  Spider-Man is along for the ride because he has stars in his eyes.  He is in awe of Tony; what is he going to do, turn down his idol’s request for help?  T’Challa is in the battle to pursue vengeance/justice for his father’s death.  Vision is here because – as the quintessential academic without real world experience – the Accords appear rational and therefore reasonable to him who is too “young” to consider the possible and probable secret agendas of those who have propagated this “law.”  Plus, they need numerical support to bring in the “rogue” Avengers.  Rhodey is here because orders are orders; he is a “perfect” soldier who follows orders to a T, whether he likes them or not.  Tony is here because he signed the Accords, thinking it would be a nice insurance policy for the team.

And Natasha is here….  Why is she here?

The question hits her like a bolt out of the blue.  Why is she here?  Why is she trying to hurt her friends?  She knows Steve, Clint, Sam, and Wanda very well.  She knows that they would never go against a law without a very good reason.  They would never drag a stranger (Ant-Man), into a fight without an extremely compelling motive.  They would never, ever fight their teammates without a damn good cause.  The fact that they are doing all of these things means that they have to have an earth-shatteringly good purpose for being here.

So who should she trust more – some empty suits in the U.N., or the people who have become her family?

The answer is obvious: she trusts and loves only the people who have proved that they trust and love her.  No matter her past sins and mistakes, no matter her foibles and flaws, these people care about her, who she is and who she can be.  The U.N. does not care about Natasha Romanoff.  They are using her, Tony, Rhodey, Vision – and through them T’Challa and Spider-Man – to gain control of the Avengers for their own purposes.  Not once have any of the Avengers ever used her.  They have given her nothing but their friendship and trust.

And right here, right now, she is breaking that trust, all in the name of protecting her friends and the human race.

This is why she leaves the main battlefield and retreats to the Aveng-jet, where Steve and Bucky meet her.  When Natasha says, “I can’t stop you,” to Steve, what is she really saying?  Is she saying, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”?  Is she saying, “You’re going to go on no matter what I say or do, so I may as well throw my lot in with you”?

Or is she really saying, “I can’t stop you because you’re right, your cause is just, and I have made one of the biggest mistakes of my life by getting in your way and signing the stupid Accords”?

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The latter seems to be the more probable answer.  Instead of shooting Cap or Bucky with her stingers, Natasha zaps T’Challa – several times.  Getting out of the duo’s way and her own path, she finds that fighting is suddenly a whole lot easier.  She likes T’Challa, of course, but the fact is that he is hunting the wrong man and planning to hurt her friend Steve to do it.  She cannot and will not let that happen.

So she holds T’Challa long enough for Steve to get the jet in the air.  Then the jet’s landing gear does the rest.

When we see Natasha next, she is trying to reach out to Tony to make him straighten up and fly right.  She points out that Steve is not going to stop.  He cannot stop.  He has to be out, fighting for an honorable cause, promoting God, truth, and justice because it is his nature.  Tony and the Accords cannot take that away from him.  It is impossible.

So the only way that the two of them, along with Rhodey, Vision, and the other Avengers can survive is to join with Steve, not fight him.  Fighting him is fighting a losing battle; as El Cid (played by Charlton Heston) pointed out in the movie of the same name, “It matters not how many are the foes, my cause is just.”  A man on a just mission is unstoppable, because justice is one of God’s attributes.  Whoever is on the side of true justice is on God’s side.

Tony is in no mood to hear this, least of all from Natasha.  Rhodey’s injury in this foolish battle has angered him, but so has Cap’s persistent refusal to come to his side.  Tony wants to be liked, confusing it for being right.  That is why he refuses to let Steve go and to let Natasha off the hook for allowing Cap to take the jet, accusing her of holding tight to her history as a spy and an assassin playing both sides of the argument in the process.

This was the wrong thing for him to say to her.  For a start, it was cruel and childish; he said what he knew would hurt her most.  Second, it showed that Tony was in this fight now not because he believed it was the right thing to do, but because his ego was damaged.

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That is what makes Natasha angry enough to say, “Are you incapable of letting go of your ego for one god-damn second?”  Then she extrapolates, telling him, “We played this wrong.”  She is not just referring to the airport battle.  She is talking about the whole fracas with the Accords.  From the moment Ross threw the booklet down at their feet, she, Tony, Rhodey, and Vision have “played this” whole thing the wrong way.  They have been in it only for themselves.

Steve, Clint, Sam, and Wanda have been fighting for the greater good.  Team Cap has been fighting the real fight, the true battle, the just war.  They are the ones who have actually been fighting for a higher cause: the protection of the human race.  Team Iron has been fighting simply to justify their collective mistake.

Tony proves he is unmoved by her argument when he warns her that “they’re comin’” for Natasha.  The manner of his speech, the way he turns to face her, the sad smirk he gives her – it is all so condescending.  His body language screams, “I am warning you just because we were friends, not because you earned it.  You cost me my battle and my friend’s back.  You are dead to me.”  Like a petty child, he is not willing to stand and fight to protect her.  He will warn her under the radar that she has to run, but as for helping her to avoid imprisonment, she is on her own.

This is betrayal.  And it infuriates Natasha for two reasons.  One, it implies that Tony only cares about her when she agrees with him.  Otherwise, he could give a fig for her.

And two, Rhodey’s injury is not her fault.  Neither is it Steve’s, Bucky’s, or Team Cap’s responsibility.  Vision is the one who shot Rhodey’s arc reactor.  And, as a friend pointed out during another viewing of the film, Vision missed Sam even before he moved to avoid his shot.  Vision’s aim was off from the start.  Even if Sam had not gotten out of the way, the laser would have missed him and hit Rhodey.  Rhodey’s lifting up slightly and banking left probably saved his life.  It put his arc reactor in the line of fire rather than his direct center of mass.

So if Rhodey’s injury is Vision’s fault, what does that mean? Let me answer that with another question:  who is responsible for Vision’s creation?

That is right, Tony is.  He made Ultron, who made Vision’s body, which the Avengers then stole and Tony reprogrammed (with Bruce’s help).  When you come right down to it, the reason Rhodey was shot was because of Tony.  Tony helped bring the android which fired the shot into the world.  And this “civil war” which tore apart the Avengers began when Tony signed the Accords.  The entire mess can be laid right at his iron-booted feet.  Again.

Are the Accords truly “splitting the difference”?  How is signing up to be the U.N.’s lapdog working out for Tony now, huh, readers?

It is not working out for Natasha.  Right after warning Tony to “watch [his] back”, Black Widow vanishes from the scene, abandoning Stark rather than following him into further error.  Where she is and what she is doing now is anybody’s guess; whether or not she has joined or will link up with the “Secret Avengers” remains to be seen.  We can certainly hope that she will join them, but it appears that she, Team Cap, and T’Challa will be officially “off the grid” until Infinity War and its sequel.

It is going to be quite the reunion during the next Avengers film, nyet, readers?

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Serenade by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Serenade

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

STARS of the summer night!
Far in yon azure deeps,
Hide, hide your golden light!
She sleeps!
My lady sleeps!
Sleeps!

Moon of the summer night!
Far down yon western steeps,
Sink, sink in silver light!
She sleeps!
My lady sleeps!
Sleeps!

Wind of the summer night!
Where yonder woodbine creeps,
Fold, fold thy pinions light!
She sleeps!
My lady sleeps!
Sleeps!

Dreams of the summer night!
Tell her, her lover keeps
Watch! while in slumbers light
She sleeps!
My lady sleeps!
Sleeps!

Book Review – The Time Traders: Firehand by Andre Norton and P. M. Griffin

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If the names Andre Norton and P. M. Griffin look good together, then that is because these authors collaborated several times on novels set in Andre Norton’s universes. From the Witch World to the Time Traders, P. M. Griffin co-wrote a number of stories with Miss Norton. To the best of my knowledge, the only books she has written on her own are her Star Commandos series. I have not been able to read any of those yet, but hopefully I will get that chance in the future.

Firehand is a novel set in Miss Norton’s Time Traders series. Now, I have not read the series all the way through. Heck, I have not even read the first book in the series! Firehand was my introduction to it.

From what I can gather, the Time Traders are units of time-traveling Terran agents who work to ensure that history either remains the same or yields better results than it did previously. But they are not doing this for economic gain. That is, at best, a side benefit. No, the Time Traders’ main mission is to protect the Terran timeline and the histories of its allies/potential allies from the interference of strange aliens called Baldies.

Baldies get their Terran nickname from their bald heads. None of these aliens have tried to be friendly or to make first contact with the Terrans. Mostly, they have either tried to eradicate them or to control them.

Ross Murdock, the young time agent, encountered these aliens in Earth’s Bronze Age on his first time-trading mission. The Baldies, powerful telepaths, at one point were working hard to take control of his mind and bend him to their will. Running for his life, Murdock could not afford to sleep. Sleep would mean his conscious mind was relaxed, which would mean he could not maintain control of himself. So the Baldies could have him sleepwalk all the way back to their camp or into a river where he would drown, and he would be none the wiser until it was too late.

So Murdock kept moving, becoming more and more exhausted as he fled the aliens. Exhaustion, of course, is a threat as well; the more he tired, the more likely he would fall unconscious or collapse into sleep. This would leave him vulnerable to the Baldies’ telepathy as well.

Ross is not a man who submits to domination willingly. In order to stave off sleep and keep the Baldies out of his mind when he rested, he set a fire. Then he put a brand in the fire, took it out, and burned his own hand with it.

That was at the start of his career as a Time Agent. By the time of Firehand, he has been on at least a couple of other missions, gaining more experience and getting tougher by the day.

This latest assignment to the planet Hawaika, though, looks to be his last. With fellow agents Doctor Gordon Ashe and Karara Trehern, Ross had to destroy the time gate to save Hawaika’s future. Now, they are all trapped in Hawaika’s past.

Not that Karara is too unhappy about that. Melding with ancient Hawaikan magic before the final battle, Karara has become something other than human. To leave Hawaika now would be a death sentence for her. But to stay would be equally bad for Gordon and Ross.

Thankfully, the Time Traders have no intention of leaving their highly trained, very expensive agents stuck in the past. Karara they have to leave behind in time for the new history to remain the same; but Ross and Gordon are coming home…

….To face yet another historical crisis. This time, the world they have to save is the Dominion of the Sun-Star Virgin. When they saved Hawaika, something went wrong in the Dominion’s past. Now that world is reduced to a glowing cinder.

So Ross, Gordon, and former Time Trader weapons instructor Eveleen Riordan are going back to Dominion’s past to fix this mess.

And that’s all I am writing, fellas. If you want to know the rest, hunt up the Time Traders series or skip straight to Firehand. As I have said elsewhere, Miss Griffin is a superb writer. Her work on Firehand is not necessarily of the same caliber as her work on Seakeep and Falcon’s Hope from Storms of Victory and Flight of Vengeance, respectively. In fact, if you are paying attention you will see some similarities between those stories and Firehand.

However, the similarities do not cause too much of a problem for me. If anything, they just show the writer’s preferences. Every writer has some favorite plots, names, animals, character types, or worlds, etc. Who am I to jump all over P. M. Griffin for being normal?

In a while, Crocodile!

The Mithril Guardian

The Rescue of My Stupid Pet Betta Fish

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Normally I keep all my private and personal affairs just that: private and personal.  But something very bizarre occurred the other day, and I have got to know if I am the only pet owner on the planet who has ever had this happen!

Almost two years ago I purchased a red betta fish.  I named him Clifford after the character in the children’s TV show, Clifford the Big Red Dog.  He was a great little pet, and I initially kept him outside.  Eventually, though, he became an indoor fish, and I really enjoyed his company.

Unfortunately, I gave him too much TLC; that is, I overfed him.  He died, so I bought a replacement after a while, another red betta.  I called him Red because it was simple and easy, and it would not make me feel like I was replacing my last pet in every detail.

I had Red for two to four weeks before he decided he wanted a better view of the room and jumped out of the tank to expire on my carpet.  If I had been present when this happened, I would have saved him, but I was out most of the day that he decided to take the leap and croak on the floor.  When I got back I thought I had an enormous bug on my carpet, until I turned on the light and saw it was actually my dried-up pet fish.

After a week or two, I decided to give owning a Siamese fighting fish another chance.  I purchased another red betta.  Feeling that this fish might not last any longer than my previous ones, I gave him the tongue-in-cheek name Crimson Typhoon.  For those of you who have not seen Pacific Rim, Crimson Typhoon is the name of the Chinese Jaeger which dies within five minutes of entering a battle onscreen.  I figured that if this little guy was going to croak as fast as the others, he ought to be aptly named.

But I have had Typhoon for nearly a year, and so far he had been doing fine.  That is, he was doing fine until yesterday morning.

At some point in the early morning or late that night, I heard a noise.  Not one to go poking around after things that go bump in the night, I tried to place the sound and decided at last that what I had heard was an annoying songbird which has been hanging around the window screens for most of the month.  When I got up later on, the first thing I did was go to check on and then feed my fish.

But my fish was not swimming around the tank.  My first thought was a French word, followed by the notion that he had died and was at the bottom of the tank somewhere.  Then I got closer and saw him stuck between the lip of the glass tank and a cone I had had made to keep him from committing suicide in the same way that Red had.

More French words followed this discovery, and I began trying to figure out how I would get him loose so I could bury him.  As I began trying to shift the cone, that stupid fish moved!

Once he flapped against the plastic, I recognized the sound I had heard in the night and nearly cursed my own stupidity for not knowing it sooner.  I desperately freed him from his confinement and, catching him as he flopped about on the table, dropped him back inside the tank.  As I did, I knocked over the cone which had been erected to keep him safe, though he had managed to find a way to thwart my protective measures.

I was furious and I let him have it, shouting at him and calling him a stupid fish.  The poor little guy was so traumatized from his night out of water that he had clamped fins, and for a while, I thought I had pulled them off in trying to free him.  His tail had already lost some of its feathery parts, and I was horrified at the idea that he would be a cripple for the rest of his likely to be short future.  Luckily, he moved both his side fins after a time and I realized they were still attached.

Not trusting him to stay in his tank, which I had been planning to clean that day anyway, I pulled him out and put him in a container until the tank could be cleaned and new security measures put in place.  All day I berated him for scaring me half to death, though I also thanked God he had not died in the middle of the night.  I do not know how long he has left in this cruel world, though, and that is why I have written this post.

Readers, I cannot be the only betta owner on the planet who has had this sort of thing occur.  I just cannot be the only one.  It is not possible.

The tank I keep Typhoon has the approximate volume of a milk jug.  It is made of glass and it does not include any sort of filtration system.  It is open to the air, which I why I have put a lid on it after this pet rescue.  The lid is of a thin plastic with lots of holes punched in it so that Typhoon can breathe.  (Bettas need to have filtrated or open air tanks, since they do not take all of their oxygen straight from the water.)  Because his tank is near a window, I bought a Tetra submersible heater for him.  It is supposed to heat two to fifteen gallon tanks and it seems to work just fine.

I also have a moss ball in the tank to supply extra oxygen for him as well.  I was hoping it would serve as a fish bed, too, but Typhoon usually ignored it as such until recently.  There is gravel in the bottom, covered by decorative glass pebbles.  I am going to feed him a green pea soon, as research I did said this was healthy for bettas and helped keep them regular.

Please let me know I am not the only owner of a Siamese fighting fish who had to rescue it from a near suicide attempt!!!!

The Mithril Guardian

(bowing)

At your service!

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P.S.  My moss ball has a tendency to float after I squeeze it out when cleaning the tank and put it back in the water.  Has this occurred with anyone else?

Old Ironsides by Oliver Wendell Holmes

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Old Ironsides

by Oliver Wendell Holmes

Aye tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon’s roar;—
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more.

Her deck, once red with heroes’ blood,
Where knelt the vanquished foe,
When winds were hurrying o’er the flood,
And waves were white below,
No more shall feel the victor’s tread,
Or know the conquered knee;—
The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea!

Oh, better that her shattered hulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be her grave;
Nail to the mast her holy flag,
Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the god of storms,
The lightning and the gale!

Book Review: Timothy Zahn’s Quadrail series

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To this blogger’s great distress, I have not read many Timothy Zahn works which were not written under the auspices of Lucasbooks. What can I say? The man writes great Star Wars stories!

But, while he may be best known for those novels, Timothy Zahn does not confine himself to this beloved niche. He has written many of his own books and has a couple of series going, with his own characters, histories, and tech.

One of these is his Quadrail series. This series focuses on one Frank Compton, a detective who works for the aliens that run the Quadrail. The Quadrail is an alien-built galactic space train that travels through the galaxy at the speed of light. How humanity became aware of it, I do not know. I have read only three books in the series so far, and those are The Third Lynx, Odd Girl Out, and The Domino Pattern.

Image result for Timothy Zahn Quadrail series Image result for Timothy Zahn Quadrail series Image result for Timothy Zahn Quadrail series

Frank’s main enemy in the series is the Modhri. The Modhri is a kind of hive mind entity which infects people – aliens and humans – with tiny organisms. These organisms are undetectable to the host, and they would only be seen in a very thorough microsurgery operation. Through these colonies of organisms, the Modhri can view what the hosts view and take control of them – motor functions and minds both – any time he feels like it.

And there is not a darn thing the hosts can do about it, in part because they can never remember what happened while they were being controlled. They are the typical living robots who have no idea they are anything but normal.

Why is the Modhri doing this? Galactic domination, of course – he has the power to achieve it, after all. Why not use it?

Frank has been fighting the Modhri for some months now with the help of Bayta, a half-human, half-alien hybrid who is perfectly up to date on a zillion different scientific facts but whose social skills are severely stunted. It is hinted that she and Frank are rather charmed with each other. ‘Course, when a girl-guy team saves each other’s lives often enough, that tends to happen.

I am not going to spoil more than I already have. Frank Compton is, now that I think about it, rather like the wizard/detective Harry Dresden, from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series. Except that Frank has to deal with aliens and tech instead of magic, fairies, and angels. Not sure which world I would rather have, though I think aliens are a mite less intimidating than angels.

Both Frank and Harry have a snappy sense of humor, they both deal with threats the general public is unaware of, and they have no problem referencing popular culture – though Frank’s pop culture is mixed with aliens and space travel, so it does not hit home quite as frequently as Harry’s does. The two characters probably display this kind of humor as a way of dealing with the stress of fighting things no one else knows about. I have to say that this is one of the reasons why I enjoy characters such as Frank Compton and Harry Dresden so much.

Well, readers, you will find no more spoilers here! Go ahead and find the Quadrail series. I hope you enjoy it!

Later,

The Mithril Guardian

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