I’m not going to lie. This has been a very stressful year for me. It’s basically been eight months of construction all around my home. Random noise. Random activity. Random changes that’ve spilled over onto my home. My productivity’s way down, and it’s been very hard to relax.

What this means (among other things) is I didn’t read a lot this year. No where near my usual. Not even two dozen books. And six of those were blurb books. So while I enjoyed most of them, reading them did have a slight “work” aspect to it that kept me from sinking in as much as I normally might. Always a good sign when I’m reading a book for a blurb and forget why I’m reading it because it’s just that good…

Anyway, it’s Cyber-Monday and, look, if you like artists, they usually get to make a lot more art when they have money. And then they tend to get money when people buy their art. So I thought—as I have in the past—I’d tell you about some of the books I really enjoyed this year. If you follow me on social media, you may’ve seen me blab on about some of these during the past year. And maybe now you can add them to your holiday wishlist or maybe pick one up for that certain special someone. Then you (or they) get some cool stories, those artists get some money, and the cycle can continue.

(also, shop locally if you can–that way money goes to you friendly neighborhood bookstore and back into your community)

Hellraiser: Bloodline by Peter Atkins– you may be familiar with the infamous “Hellraiser in Space” movie. What you may not know is it had a seriously fantastic script that was butchered by, well, all the usual suspects. Now you can read the original story and imagine the movie that should’ve been. Highly recommended for Hellraiser fans.

The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells– I didn’t get to read much this year, but I managed to catch up on all the fantastic Murderbot books, about the rogue SecUnit that’s (grudgingly) learning about emotions and friendship and multi-seasonal soap operas. And then a new book came out, like, two weeks ago (System Collapse) and now I’m behind again. But you can learn from my mistakes. Buy someone the whole set so they can read them all at once.

Shakedown by Scott Sigler – I got to read this one early and it’s one of those books where I have to just say I’m jealous as hell and I can’t wait for the next one. Basically it’s about an officer in a future war sentenced (wrongly?) to serve on a… prison ship? Experimental ship? Cursed ship? Who can say what it is. If you like military thrillers, this is for you. Sub hunts? This is for you. Sci-fi with a creepy edge? SO for you.

Walking the Dusk by Mike Robinson– this is another book I got to blurb this year, and another wonderfully creepy one. There’s just this fantastic sense of dread all through this tale of a college professor trying to remember one childhood summer with his big sister and his possibly imaginary friend, along with lots of pondering about identity vs memory, a personal favorite of mine.

Red Rabbit by Alex Grecian – not so much a weird western as more of a western with supernatural elements? I’m almost tempted to call it a period urban fantasy, if that makes sense? Whatever you want to call it, it’s a beautiful slow-burn of a book about an odd mix of characters who end up traveling cross-country to kill a witch. There’s still a few weeks left, but this is one of my favorite things I read this year.

Cult Classic by Stephen Blackmoore – very possibly the last Eric Carter book, but damn does Stephen stick the landing on this one. The recently-resurrected Carter is trying to deal with his reputation as one of the most powerful/dangerous mages in the country, a rookie cop with a rare magical knack, magical timeslips, and an actual Oracle who can see the future. I’ve been telling you to read these books for years, and if you’re shopping for one of those people who won’t start a series until it’s done… well, now’s the time to give them a big block of urban fantasy.

The Ghost Job by Greg van Eekhout– A freakin’ adorable YA tale of a team of dead kids who pull heists for various magical relics and artifacts. I heard Greg talk about this a year or so back and was hooked then. In all fairness, as I write this I’m not quite halfway through, but I’m loving it so far and Greg has a pretty solid track record, as far as I’m concerned (see also: Fenris & Mott), so I think you should just go for it and pick this up.

And that’s all of them from this year. Do you have any suggestions of your own? Drop ’em in the comments, please! Other than that… yeah, that’s all I’ve got for you.

Well, I mean, there’s all my books, too. I’d never object if you want to give someone a nice hardcover of The Broken Room or a copy of Paradox Bound or The Fold for them to stick on their shelves. Heck, on a related note, I mentioned I’m signing at Dark Delicacies on December 9th, right? Order something from them now and I can sign it for you (or someone else) then. Just give them a call.

And finally, if all this talk about buying books as gifts is getting you a bit depressed for financial reasons, may I wave you back towards the Black Friday offer. Maybe we should talk.

Anyway, happy Cyber-Monday. Hope something here caught your eye…

November 27, 2021

Small Business Saturday

Hey there! As I have several times in the past, I thought I’d take a moment at the holidays to mention some of the books I’ve read and enjoyed this year by much more talented authors. If you’re still wondering about what to get that certain someone, you could go hit your local bookstore, browse around a bit, and maybe find a few things from this list they might enjoy.

Or maybe you’ll just find something on your own. That’s the fun of browsing in real-world bookstores.

So, in no real order…

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir – we’ll start with an easy one. If you haven’t somehow heard, Andy’s latest is (surprise) just fantastic. The tale of an (accidentally) lone astronaut’s desperate attempt to save the Earth. It’s fun, it’s fast, it’s incredibly smart while being ridiculously accessible. Absolutely anyone will enjoy it. Yeah, even that grouchy uncle who doesn’ tlike sci-fi stuff.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab—I’m a sucker for stories about memory and identity, and this book approaches it from the opposite side. What if it wasn’t your memory but everyone else’s. What if no one could ever remember you? What if they forgot you the moment they couldn’t see you? What kind of life would this be? And what if that life never, ever ended… ?

Bottle Demon by Stephen Blackmoore—every year Stephen writes a new book about necromancer Eric Carter and every year it ends up on this list. This most recent one is, hands down, his most amazing, and probably the most emotional, too, as Carter deals with an army of golems, an irate djinn, and the completely mysterious and unexpected resurrection of… well, himself.

King Bullet by Richard Kadrey—if you’re one of those people who waits for the end of a series to start reading, well, I guess this is a good day. Kadrey brings the Sandman Slim books to a close with one last Stark adventure and a truly magnificent ending that feels perfectly fitting while also being somehow completely unexpected.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland—I’ve read a lot of zombie books out of a very broad genre, but this book manages to be fresh and very fun, picturing an alternate world where the American Civil War is disrupted by a mass zombie outbreak, and young women of color are trained to be bodyguards against the undead for “proper” women. I liked it so much I recommended this one for our Last Bookstore dystopian book club.

The History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel—a wonderful tale about aliens and their very long-game plan to shape the Earth’s assorted space programs to prepare us for… something. It’s one of those books that’ll teach you a lot of history even as it entertains you.

Madi by Duncan Jones, Alex deCampi, and too many fantastic artists to list here—this graphic novel is set in the same world as Jones’s films Moon and Mute, and asks what happens when a government super-cyborg decides to retire, especially when their body’s loaded up with proprietary software and hardware that requires ongoing maintenance and updates. It’s kind of like the weirdly fun baby that came out of a threeway between The Transporter, Crank, and The Bionic Woman.

Hard Reboot by Django Wexler—it’s a love story about a pair of women trying to rebuild a giant robot so it can compete on the giant robot pit-fighting circuit. Seriously, what more do you need to know?

Reclaimed by Madeleine Roux—remember what I said about memory and identity? Seriously, it’s like Madeleine wrote this book just for me. A group of people agree to be test subjects for a procedure that can erase traumatic experiences from your memory. But how much of who you are is defined by those experiences? What kind of person are you changed into once they’re gone? And how would you go about fixing that change…?

The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig—this is a beautiful, brutal book, and it’s almost tough to recommend because it hit a lot of nerves for me, personally, that are probably going to be raw forever. That said, it’s a wonderful book about choices and consequences and how they make us who we are.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells– people have been telling me about the Murderbot books for ages, so I’m really late to this party. You may already know this but if you somehow didn’t… wow, what a fun read. The story of a security android that figures out how to hack its own code, inadvertently becoming an independent being and now stuck guarding a group of scientists on a survey mission.

Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle –another one I’m really late on but goddamn. This was one of the first books I read in 2021 and it’s still hands down the best. There just aren’t enough adjectives to describe how fantastic this book is and on how many levels. Lovecraftian horror grounded in real-world horror and it’s just brutally beautiful.

And those are my personal favorites for the year. I may add to this list over the next week or two, depending on how my current reads go. Please feel free to add any of your own must-reads down in the comments. I’d also shamelessly remind you that you can find a lot of my own books at your favorite local bookstore, like The Fold, Paradox Bound, or the Ex-Heroes books.

I’ll also take this moment to remind you of my Black Friday offer, just in case you missed it earlier. Please feel free to get in touch if you think it might help you out. And please—it’s not about if someone needs it more than you. It’s just about if you need some help.

Oh, and if you happen to be at SDCC Special Edition this weekend, I’m going to be hosting the Writer’s Coffeehouse on Sunday at 11:30, room 32AB. Ninety minutes of random tips and facts from me as I try to answer all your questions about publishing, writing, and anywhere those two might overlap.

Happy holidays. Probably back to all our usual stuff next week.

April 18, 2014 / 2 Comments

No Capes!

            Decade-old pop culture reference, but it’s still relevant.  And fun.  Especially today.
            As a lot of the book covers over on the right suggest, I’m big on superheroes.  Have been for years and years now.  They’re a popular topic these days, too.  Comics.  Television.  Movies.  I tend to get asked about them a lot, and I talk about them a lot.
            Because superheroes are so popular, people are slapping that label on lots and lots of stories. There’s a distinction that needs to be made, though, and I think it’s one some folks have trouble grasping.  And since so much of being a good writer is grasping those little details, I thought it would be worth going over.  Apologies, because this one’s going to be a little more lecture-ish.
            First… a little history.
            The whole idea of masked avengers arguably started with The Scarlet Pimpernel.  There’s probably a strong case to be made for the Count of Monte Cristo, but I think for this little rant the Pimpernel’s probably the best example.  It was a 1904 story by the prolific Emma Orczy about a swashbuckler who fought for the oppressed in Robespierre’s France by using a series of disguises and a circle of secret operatives.  There was also Doctor Syn (a.k.a. the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh) in 1915, Zorro in 1919, and then a series of comic book superheroes like The Phantom and The Spider before we started seeing familiar folks like Batman in 1939 (seventy five years ago almost to the day, in fact).
            Interesting point, though…  None of these characters had any sort of actual powers.  They were just mortal men (and a few women, even back then) with a lot of training and skills who hid their true identities behind a mask or elaborate disguise.
            Now, on the other hand, stories of people with actual superhuman abilities have been around for thousands of years.  Literally, thousands.  Gilgamesh, Hercules, and Icarus all had superpowers centuries before the birth of Jesus (who, arguably, also had some powers of his own).  The regenerating Green Knight first appeared in medieval Arthurian legends.  The Grimms wrote up several stories about the strongest man in the world, the fastest man in the world, the man with the sharpest hearing, and so on.  Robert Louis Stevenson created a scientist who could change into a monster, and H.G. Wells had one who could turn invisible.  In modern day times, Stephen King started his career with a telekinetic teenager, a precognizant schoolteacher, and a pyrokinetic little girl.  Alexander Key, Dean Koontz, and Stephen Gould all wrote novels about people who could teleport.
            However… are any of these characters actually superheroes?
            My point is, superheroes and superpowers are, and have pretty much always been, two separate things.  One doesn’t necessarily require the other.  And, like a lot of story forms, if I get confused about which one I’m telling, things can go in a lot of weird ways that… well, don’t work.
            Now, some folks claim, for example, that Gilgamesh was always a superhero story.   So were all the Greek and Norse myths.  That’s what superheroes are, right?  Modern mythology?
            I kind of disagree with this.  H.P. Lovecraft once made the very clever observation that we couldn’t have true supernatural storiesbefore the 19th century because until then people really didn’t know what the naturalwas.  So trying to re-classify older stories doesn’t work.  I think the same thing applies here.  There were many tales of heroes with superhuman powers and abilities before the Scarlet Pimpernel, but I’d argue the idea of an actual superhero story didn’t exist until the early 20th century.  There was a definite split there into those two distinct forms—superhero stories and superpower stories.
            And, as I mentioned above, if I don’t know which one I’m writing, it can cause some problems.  They’re not interchangeable, and some of the concepts don’t play well together.
            Let’s go over a couple basics I’ve observed over the years…
            Right at the start, I’ve noticed that superpowers stories tend to brush over the origin of said powers.  In both Jumper and the Harry Potter books, we’re just told that this is the way the world has always been.  Some folks get the teleport gene.  Some can do magic.  That’s it.  If superpower tales do have an origin in them, they tend to lean toward the hard sciences, making it as believable as possible… but still pretty much brushing over it.

            With superheroes, though, the origin is pretty much a standard.  A writer can also get away with somewhat sillier, softer-science origin stories.  More than a few characters have gotten superpowers from blood transfusions (including one of my own).  Lots of folks stumble across magic or alien artifacts.  Radiation was a common source of superpowers for decades, despite what we learned in seventh grade science class.  Heck, Stan Lee wrote a story where someone got their powers by standing near a nuclear bomb when it went off.  Absurd, yes?  Yet here we are today and that’s still the accepted origin of the Incredible Hulk (though they’ve quietly retconned him a bit further away from ground zero).

            As far as character motivations go, a superherostory is almost always defined by a person who makes a conscious decision to publicly use their powers for a wider goal that may not benefit them (and often doesn’t).  Most of them feel morally compelled to use their abilities this way.  They aren’t doing it to show off or to get even with someone.  Obvious as it may sound…superheroes act heroically.
            This public nature also means they deal with public sentiment of one kind or another.  Iron Man’s a celebrity in just about every sense of the word.  Superman’s an iconic part of Metropolis.  Captain America’s a venerable historic figure.  Batman and Spider-Man receive mixed reviews.  The X-Men are openly considered criminals.
            In a superpowers story, the characters may have superhuman abilities, but their motivation tends to be personal, and their actions are usually behind-the-scenes.  When powers are revealed in superpowers books, it’s almost never a good thing.  Consider Carrie and Firestarter, both of which I hinted at up above.  In each book the girls hide their powers until they need them (for revenge and to rescue her father, respectively) and when their powers are revealed these are moments of absolute horror.  The Green Knight tests the character of knights on a one-at-a-time basis, and if you know that tale you know the awful way people learn about his powers.  In The Dead Zone, Johnny Smith’s trying to save the world, but he has to do it alone and secretly because no one will believe him.  Hiding your powers and staying apart from the world is a main theme in both the Harry Potterand Percy Jackson books. 
            The abilities in superhero stories tend to be much more extreme, too.  There’s Superman and the Sentry, two examples of the “living god” superhero.  For decades the Flash could actually run faster than the speed of light.  The Scarlet Witch could alter reality on a planetary scale while Phoenix could telekinetically manipulate matter on a molecular level.  The only limit to what a Green Lantern ring can do is the wearer’s imagination.
            Compare this to superpower stories, where powers are usually much more “believable” and often have limiting side effects.  In The Dead Zone, Johnny Smith hemorrhages when he uses his powers too much, and so does Charlie’s dad in Firestarter.  In Dean Koontz’s The Bad Place, teleportation can mean scrambling your body, your mind, or both.  In Limitless, the IQ-enhancing drug can (and usually does) kill you when you go into withdrawal.  In fact, the only two superpower stories I can think of where someone has overwhelming powers would be Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Lathe of Heaven and the film Dark City (but if you can think of others, please let me know).
             In a superhero story, I’d say a costume is almost necessary, much in the same way a cowboy needs a hat and a horse.  Mostly because it’s how my hero or heroine protects their secret identity and the people around them.  However, I will toss out the proviso that putting my main character in a costume doesn’t make my story a superhero story, just like putting them on a horse doesn’t automatically make it a western.   
            Superpowers stories involve street clothes.  Even if someone has a “uniform” way of dressing, it tends to be suits, boots, leather jackets, and other things that wouldn’t look that out of place on a city street.  Hercules didn’t have a special outfit for performing the twelve labors.  Carrie doesn’t duck out of her prom to put on a leotard and a domino mask.  On Grimm, Nick tends to just dress like a police detective, even when he knows he’s going up against Wesen or other monsters.
            I also think a lot of this difference has to do with the world a given story is set in.  More often than not, a superpowers story has a very realistic setting.  Aside from a very limited, few beings (most of whom stay out of the public eye), there’s almost nothing to distinguish it from the real, day-to-day world we read about online.  And that’s going to affect what characters know and how they react to things.  Even how they interact with each other.
            By contrast, look at the settings for some of our well-known superheroes.  In both the Marvel and DC universes, the existence of aliens—several types of aliens—is a well-documented fact.  New York was very visibly invaded by aliens in The Avengers movie.  Superman’s a known alien.  So are Hawkgirl and Hawkman.  Green Lantern works for aliens.  Magic is real in both universes, too.  Spider-Man is a common sight swinging through his version of New York, where the Avengers and Fantastic Four both have very public office building.  Heck, I think the Avengers have two or three buildings at this point.
            Needless to say… those stories are not set in the real world.  And, as I said before, the setting definitely influences my story.
            So, all that being said…
            I think one of the problems with pushing a superpowers story into the superheromold is the silliness factor.  The motivations don’t always work as well.  When someone puts on a costume in a real world setting, it tends to feel like the writer isn’t taking things seriously.  In the final chapter of the BBC’s Jekyll, when Dr. Jackman unites with Hyde to become truly superhuman, It would’ve been ridiculous if he’d stopped to pull on a leotard and cape.  There’s a well-meaning little indie film called Sidekick where the hero does just that in the third act to rescue his love interest, and it feels completely absurd.

            You get similar issues going the other way, too.  People historically read superhero comics for escapism.  We want to see Superman fly around the country, not walk across it.  When someone picks up the latest Incredible Hulk, they want to see him get angry and perform some feats of amazing strength, usually coupled with some amazing property damage.  While some of the issues Doctor Banner’s dual personality causes him are interesting, nobody opens an issue of the Hulk really hoping to see ten or eleven pages of Bruce sitting in a diner discussing physical strength vs. spiritual strength with the waitress.  I think Marvel and DC’s sales figures over the past few years will back me up on this.  The audience for superhero stories isn’t looking for stark realism.
            This is also why some things in related universes just don’t mix well.  John Constantine is part of the DC Universe, but he doesn’t really fit with in with the Superman, Captain Atom, Green Arrow crowd.  Neither does Dream of the Endless.  Marvel has zombie hitman Terror, who also is clearly in the Marvel universe but just never sat right alongside Spidey, Captain Marvel, Daredevil, and the rest.  Whenever these two types of characters interact it always seems awkward, and one or the other doesn’t really feel right.
            Now, granted, these aren’t formal rules that have been set down by tenured professors.   If we just look at a lot of fiction, though, we’ll see that this separation of powers (so to speak) has been around for ages.  I’ve given a bunch of examples here, and even more when I first talked about this idea a few years ago

            As always, I’m sure someone can dig around and find that one story where Constantine teamed up with Green Lantern and it was magnificent.  But overall, if I’m going to play with super-powered characters, it’s probably a good idea to be clear what kind of story I want to tell.  Because if I don’t… well, there might be some clashes.  Not the fun bare-knuckle kind, either.
            Next time, while I try to finish up this new draft before Texas Frightmare, I’d like to talk about drafts.
            But until then, go write.
July 2, 2009 / 5 Comments

I… Have… The POWER!!!

As always, if you don’t get the title… your pop-culture kung fu is weak.

So, last summer a movie came out some of you may have seen called Hancock, written by Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan. Apparently the lead actor was in one or two other films, as well, and had a small fan following that helped a bit at the box office. I got to review it for the CS Weekly newsletter (sign up over there on the right—it’s free), and it’s what first got me thinking about this week’s topic. It came up again a few months ago over lunch with a friend of mine who’s written a few movies (and a television show I know at least one of you loved). And it’s something I had to think about a lot for my forthcoming book, Ex-Heroes.

And I thought it’d be worth bringing up here for two or three of you (almost a full quarter of the ranty blog’s readership).

When you’re playing in the genre realms, you should note there’s a very big difference between a story about a superhero and a story about someone who has superpowers. They’re not the same thing, and trying to cram one into the mold of the other will almost always cause problems.

If you think about it, stories about people with superhuman abilities have been around for thousands of years. Gilgamesh and Hercules both had superpowers. So did Anubis, Icarus, the Green Knight, and yes, even Jesus. In the classics there’s Matthew Maule, Dr. Jekyll, and even arguably the Count of Monte Cristo. There are lots of modern-day stories and films featuring people with superhuman abilities, too. The Dead Zone is about a person with superpowers. So are the Sixth Sense, Scanners, and Unbreakable. Heck, even Luke Skywalker has abilities far beyond those of mortal men (and Wookies).

However… are any of these characters superheroes?

Let’s look at a few side by side examples.

The X-Men comic books and films had characters who could control flames, read minds, and teleport. However, so did Stephen King’s novel Firestarter, Alexander Key’s Escape to Witch Mountain, and Steven Gould’s Jumper.

Spider-Man is a character who gets abilities when his DNA is mixed with an insect (okay, an arachnid) during a science experiment. But this is also what happens in both versions of The Fly. Spider-Man also has strength and agility far beyond that of normal men, just like John Carter of Mars in the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

In the Fantastic Four comics and films, Susan Richards nee Storm can turn invisible, but so could the Greek hero Perseus, Darien Fawkes in the Sci-Fi Channel series The Invisible Man, and John Griffin in its H.G. Wells namesake novel.

Batman is a guy who hides his identity, gears up, and goes out at night to fight crime in order to avenge the loss of his loved ones– just like Charles Bronson in Deathwish.

Now, if I had to nail down what the difference is, I would say that a super hero story is defined by a person who makes a conscious decision to publicly use their powers for the greater good (a wider, broader goal that does not involve them). They aren’t doing it to get even, to save someone close to them, or to show off. Most of them feel morally compelled to use their abilities this way, no matter how crappy it makes other aspects of their lives. Obvious as it may sound—superheroes act heroically.

This public nature also means they deal with public sentiment of one kind or another. Captain America is venerated as a historical figure. Superman is lauded in the press. Batman and Spider-Man receive mixed reviews. The X-Men are openly considered criminals (or were, last time I read their books—they may have Congressional Medals of Honor at this point).

I would also go so far as to say a costume is almost necessary, much in the same way a cowboy needs a hat and a horse. However, I’ll also toss out the proviso that the costume in and of itself does not make a story a superhero story, just as the hat and horse do not automatically make something a western.

The flipside of this is a super powers story. Someone who may have superhuman abilities, but all their motivation is usually personal, and their actions tend to be more behind-the-scenes. I listed a few examples of this above, side by side with their comic book counterparts. In The Dead Zone (the original book/ movie) Johnny is acting for the greater good, but he’s taking very secretive steps. In Jumper, David’s really just interested in saving himself and his girlfriend. Harry Potter is all about hiding your powers and staying apart from the world. And in Hancock, while he is acting publicly, the story itself is really all about his disconnect with humanity, not that he can fly and throw cars around. If you think about it, the story of Hancock works almost exactly the same if he’s just a powerless, homeless vigilante with amnesia.

Also on that flipside, superpowers stories involve street clothes. Even if someone has a “uniform” of some sort (John Constantine almost always dresses the same way) it tends to be boots, tee-shirts, and other things that wouldn’t look that out of place on a city street.

I also think a lot of this difference has to do with the setting for these stories. More often than not, a superpowers story has a very realistic setting. Aside from a very limited, few beings, there’s almost nothing to distinguish it from the real, day-to-day world we hear about each weeknight from Charlie Gibson and ABC News.

By contrast, look at the settings for some of our well-known superheroes. Spider-Man is a common sight swinging through his version of New York, a place where the Fantastic Four and Avengers have very public office buildings and the existence of aliens—several types of aliens– is a well-documented fact. Superman’s a known alien, too. Hellboy’s an actual demon (arguably the Antichrist) who’s gone straight and publicly works for the U.S. government.

Once you can tell them apart, I think one of the immediate problems with pushing a superpowers story into a superhero mold is the silliness factor. When someone puts on a costume in a real world setting, it suddenly feels like the writer isn’t taking things seriously. Check out a little indie film called Sidekick. It has a few flaws, but once the hero pulls on a costume in the third act (in the middle of rescuing his would-be girlfriend from a mentally unbalanced kidnapper) the audience just can’t forgive it. What would people have thought if the film version of Firestarter ended with little Drew Barrymore pulling on red tights and a cape to go fight evil as Firegirl or some such?

(Please keep in mind before answering, we’re talking about a nine-year old Drew Barrymore in spandex, not grown-up Drew. Perverts.)

You get similar issues going the other way. While the problems Peter Parker deals with because of his powers are interesting, when someone picks up the latest Amazing Spider-Man they want to see him pull on the webbed suit and fight the Lizard. Too much melodrama in street clothes with Aunt May and J. Jonah Jameson just starts to get dull (as Marvel’s sales figures over the past few years can attest to). There’s a reason the folks who read the daily Spidey strips in the newspaper also tended to skip Mark Trail and Mary Worth. People who read superhero stories aren’t looking for stark realism.

As a fun aside, some of you may remember an experiment Marvel tried years back called the New Universe. They were comics about real people in the real world who developed superpowers and reacted… well, realistically. Many of them tried to hide their new abilities, several tried to get rid of them, and more than a few were corrupted by these powers. The whole line sold horribly (so much so that I became a regular contributor to one of the letter columns with no effort) and was cancelled after barely two years—the end of which involved several attempts to turn the characters into true superheroes.

I’ve also noticed that superpowers stories tend to brush over the origin with a simple “this is the way it is,” sort of explanation. In both Jumper and the Harry Potter books, we’re just told that this is the way the world has always been. Some folks get the teleport gene. Some can do magic (why some can and some can’t is never explained, but it also seems to be genetic in J.K.’s books, too). Also superpowers stories, if they have to give an origin, tend to lean toward the hard sciences, making it as believable as possible.

With superheroes, though, the origin is almost a standard. A writer can also get away with somewhat sillier, non-scientific origin stories. The Flash was struck by lightning. More than a few characters have gotten superpowers from blood transfusions (including one of my own). Radiation is a common source of superhuman abilities, too, despite what we learned in seventh grade science. Remember how the Hulk got his powers? No, not the recent version—the original version. Mild-mannered Bruce Banner was near the prototype gamma bomb when it was detonated and received a massive dose of radiation. Yes, a mere 45 years ago, Stan Lee wrote a story where someone got their powers by standing next to a nuclear bomb when it went off. Yet here we are today and that is still the accepted origin of the Incredible Hulk (although they’ve oh-so-casually moved him a bit further from ground zero).

One last, related note– the abilities in superpowers stories tend to be a bit more plausible and limited. Jean Gray of the X-Men can alter matter on a molecular level with her telekinetic abilities, but Tony and Tia Castaway need the mental crutch of a harmonica just to move around a hat rack with a raincoat on it. In fact, the only two superpower stories I can think of where someone has overwhelming powers would be the film Dark City and Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Lathe of Heaven.

Wow, have I rattled on about this or what? I’m sure you’ve all got other stuff you need to go do. Like writing stuff.

Next time… well, next time I think we finally need to talk about some of these issues with your mother.

But until then, go write.