Thou readst black where I read white.
Thou readst black where I read white.
How’ve y’all been doing?
August turned out to be a pretty rough month. First off, there was San Diego Comicom, then I came back to two weeks of house guests (my niece and brother-in-law), then Worldcon in Reno. After that, there was this fairly impressive illness that took me out for about a week. Anyway. The upshot is we’ve been thin on the ground these last few weeks.
Worldcon, old news though it may be, was a blast. The best moment for me was my Kaffeklatsch where Rose Fox and Jo Walton showed up. I have to admit I got a little fanboy-ish over Jo Walton in particular. We got together for coffee a couple times in the course of the convention, and I think she’s simply the bee’s knees. I got to hear something about her project after Among Others, and now I want badly to read the finished book. (A very close contender for Best Moment was dinner with Tim Holman, the commanding mind behind Orbit, and talking about the relationship between reader and author.)
Worst moment: Eight hours into the drive to Reno, Ty turned to me and said “Whose idea was it that we drive?” The silver lining on that one was driving through the vast emptiness between Las Vegas and Reno, we saw a predator drone and a couple of disturbingly remote (but apparently legal) brothels. So wouldn’t have seen those. I have, however, had to reaffirm my commitment to no 16-hour road trips. We left Reno after the Wildcards panel on Sunday and got home in time for me to get the Darling Child to school in the morning.
There’s a lot of news brewing — I mean a lot. Some’s good, some’s challenging, but the one thing I wanted to point up today is a little appreciation of Jennifer Heddle.
Jen was the editor at Pocket who fist picked up the Black Sun’s Daughter books. From the time that MLN Hanover first came into being, Jen Heddle was the one who cultivated and shepherded the project. Even MLN’s only short short — Hurt Me — first appeared in an anthology that Jen was overseeing.
Jen is starting her new job now, working on media tie-in books with Lucasfilms. I owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude for all the time and attention she put into the Black Sun books. The last one she worked on — Killing Rites — will be out in a couple months. I’m expecting her replacement at Pocket to be named shortly, and I’m looking forward to working with Pocket for a long time. No matter who is it or how good they are, Jen will be missed. She’s a damn good editor, a consumate professional, and Lucasfilms is lucky to have her.
If any of y’all are coming to Worldcon in Reno this year, here’s the list of places you may find me formally. apart from these, I’ll likely be hanging around in the bar or losing money in the casino.
Thu 11:00 – 12:00, Autographing: Thu 11:00 (Autographing), Hall 2
Thu 13:00 – 14:00, KaffeeKlatsch: Thu 13:00 (KaffeeKlatsch),
Fri 10:30 – 11:00, Reading: Daniel Abraham (Reading), A14 (RSCC)
Sat 12:00 – 13:00, Giving and Receiving Critiques (Panel), A16
Many writers participate in writers workshops, but it can
be difficult, especially for new writers, to give critiques
helpfully and receive critiques gracefully. Experienced
workshoppers discuss techniques for critiques.
Sun 12:00 – 13:00, Wild Cards (Panel), A01+6 (RSCC)
As I write this, the DC universe is being remade. Next month, fifty-two comic book titles are going have their numbers set back to “Issue #1.” The origins of the heroes will be changed a little. The costumes will be different. Superman and Lois Lane won’t end their romance. Rather, the romance will never have happened. Or at least it won’t have happened yet.
This is just the latest in an apparently endless line of familiar stories that the entertainment industry has decided to try again. Consider JJ Abrams’ new Star Trek, Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, and Steven Moffat’s modern remaking of Sherlock Holmes. Over and over we see the sense of history thrown out, the audience who have invested their time and energy (sometimes for decades) in a story told that none of that was real. Spiderman didn’t really marry Mary Jane after all.
Why do they do this? Why do the creators throw out all the old story, just to start over again?
I have a theory. I think they do it because it’s a really good idea.
Long-running fiction wants time to pass differently than it does in the real world. History tends to be slower in imagined universes. As writers and readers, we resist changes there because we can, while change in the world defies us.
I remember reading that Robert Parker’s Spenser aged twelve years in the thirty-six years following his appearance in The Godwulf Manuscript. At Comicon this year, George RR Martin talked about liking Spiderman because Peter Parker was a teenager when he was, that Parker went to college when he did. But Parker took eight years to graduate, while George took four.
Kal-El appeared full-grown as Superman in 1938, making him a little older than my own grandfather. His most recent incarnation, Brandon Routh, is ten years my junior.
Like a tectonic fault, the tension from this slipping builds up over the course of many issues or episodes or books or films. Slowly, it corrodes our suspension of disbelief, and it starts demanding a release. There are, as far as I can tell, only three options.
The first is the most honest: let our heroes age and die the way we do. If Bruce Wayne were a man, he would be past his century mark. There would be something noble and human and important in the story of a Batman wracked by age and dementia, of a hero who has outlived his enemies and suffering the ravages of joint damage from decades of violence . I can imagine a last issue of Batman Comics in which Wayne suffers the last of a long series of small strokes and dies in his nursing home bed, a hospice nurse at his side. While it would be a human and recognizable story, I can’t say I’d find it satisfying.
The second option is a cultivated and willful obliviousness. Spiderman is in his early twenties because he always is. Unlike a real person, he drags his past behind him at a certain length. Peter Parker was always in high school less than a decade ago, no matter when you see him. We make ourselves forget that Spenser served in Korea. We don’t ask how old Lois Lane is. Slowly, the sense of history warps and becomes inauthentic. The characters limp apologetically into a place outside time, with author and audience agreeing not to look too closely at how they got there.
The third alternative is to retell it.
There is a betrayal that comes with restarting a story, especially when the details aren’t the same as the time before. When you see someone arguing against rebooting, phrases come up like “none of it mattered” and “it didn’t really happen.”
Something that people creating narratives – authors, directors, game designers – ask is that the audience believe something is true that isn’t. The bedrock answer to questions like “Was the Joker really Joe Chill?” or “When did Ma and Pa Kent find Superman?” or “How did Spock and Kirk meet?” is that the questions are meaningless. There is no Joker. No Superman. No Kirk or Spock. Gwen Stacey never fell to her death. To ask what really happened is to assert that the fictional universe in which the characters exist is as constrained and consistent as our own. We, the storytellers, have asked our audience to pretend that it is. It isn’t.
And when we let ourselves shrug off the idea that a story exists only one way – when we abandon continuity – something interesting happens.
Take the Joker. We’ve had Alan Moore’s sympathetic Joker from The Killing Joke. We’ve had the camp Cesar Romero version from the 1960s television series. We’ve had Nicholson’s Jack Napier. We’ve Mark Hamill’s madman and sometimes-lover of Harley Quinn. We’ve had Heath Leger’s icon of chaos with nothing in his pockets but knives and lint. No two of these versions could exist together in a rigorous historical continuity, and yet they’re all the Joker.
Or Sherlock Holmes. The consulting detective of Baker Street can be the original Conan Doyle invention, but my favorite versions of Holmes come from Nicholas Meyer’s novels and Steven Moffat’s A Study in Pink. And to my money, the best Holmes of all time wasn’t even named Holmes, but Daryl Zero. These characters remain recognizable.
When the sense of historicity goes, the stories still have boundaries. Batman is always Bruce Wayne whose parents were killed in front of him. Spiderman always loses his Uncle Ben and learns that with great power comes great responsibility. Sherlock Holmes is always accompanied by his Dr. Watson.
I would love to see Star Trek’s pilot episode The Menagerie remade with a script by Alan Moore. I imagine it becoming a reflection on identity, reality, and confinement. I would love to see it retold by Howard Waldrop, where I think it would be comforting, involved with grief and nostalgia and – knowing Waldrop – Tennessee Williams. I want to see it remade by Karen Joy Fowler. And Spike Lee. And Christopher Nolan. With every version, the story would become deeper, wider, and more interesting.
So yes, DC should go ahead. They should tell me the story again of how Kal-El came to earth and was raised by two decent people to be a good man. How Diana Prince came to be Wonder Woman, or vice versa depending on how they do it. See what they can do with Aquaman. Maybe they’ll come up with something interesting. Maybe they won’t. We’ll see.
In the larger scheme, though, I am generally in favor or reboots and retellings. It’s how stories become larger and richer than any one version. It’s how they become more like myths or folk tales.
Tomorrow, I wing my way to Burning Man For People Who Prefer Climate Control, also known as the San Diego Comicon.
If you’d like to catch up with me, I’ll be at the following events:
THURSDAY 10 AM – NOON:
Signing at the Avatar booth for Fevre Dream comic book. Oh, and George RR Martin will be there too.
FRIDAY NOON – 1 PM:
MLN Hanover signing at the Pocket Books booth
FRIDAY 3 PM until we stop:
James SA Corey signing at the Orbit booth
SATURDAY 3 PM until I stop:
Daniel Abraham signing at the Orbit booth
SUNDAY 10:30 – 11:30 AM:
Wild Cards panel
SUNDAY NOON – 1 PM:
Speculative Fiction panel
SUNDAY 1 PM – 2 PM:
Post-panel signing thingy.
Otherwise, I shall be having meals with my editors, interviewing and being interviewed (mostly at the Suvudu booth), attending a couple parties, meeting a man who helped to inspire the Expanse books, and hopefully bumming around with some friends.
So about year ago, a good friend of mine named Victor Milan tried his very best to die of a raging infection in the lungs. I’m happy to report he failed in this endeavor. In fact, because he now is healthier than he was for probably a decade prior to the incident, I can call his failure utter and all encompassing. He did the exact opposite of die: he got much, much healthier instead.
But enough of Mr. Milan’s failures. Let’s talk about me instead.
While Vic was still in the throws of his lung related woes, I was called into the office by my boss, George. The editor of the Wild Cards series. He said (I paraphrase), “Vic is supposed to write a story for Fort Freak, but is instead trying to die. He delivered a first draft of the story before going into the hospital to have his chest hacked open, but it will require some rewriting to fit into the book. Since the doctors won’t let us drag a laptop into Vic’s oxygen tent, what would you think of helping out?”
I was pretty hesitant at first. I had thought my contribution to Wild Cards had ended with my creation of the character Tinkerbill. I was satisfied with the mark I had left. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to join the madhouse that writing an actual Wild Cards story was rumored to be. In addition, Vic was a friend of mine. And you don’t just jump in and rewrite your friend’s story willy nilly. Stories are like children. I wouldn’t just take it on myself to rewrite the DNA of a friend’s child. Unless it gave them superpowers. But it’s still something you have to think carefully about.
George, and his trusty sidekick Melinda Snodgrass were pretty insistent that it be me. They flattered me by saying that I write fast, and they needed it post haste. They said that I was a good collaborator, so they didn’t worry that I’d be able to work with Vic’s first draft. Melinda went so far as to visit Vic and ask if it was ok if I did the rewrites. He said yes, though he was probably high as a kite on morphine at the time, so I think he had diminished capacity. Mostly though, all of this flattery boiled down to, “We need this right now, and you’re sitting here, so you should do it.”
They finally wore me down.
For those of you who haven’t heard about it already, Amazon has put up its opinion of the best (F&SF) books of 2011 (so far)
While I haven’t read anywhere near as many of these as I’d like, I agree profoundly with their selection for #1.
And yeah, between us, me & Ty made the list twice. So that was very pleasant.