My second published story is now available!! It’s just a little flash piece, 600 words, but I’m still super happy someone liked it enough to pay money for it! :)
Read it at Evil Girlfriend Media
My second published story is now available!! It’s just a little flash piece, 600 words, but I’m still super happy someone liked it enough to pay money for it! :)
Read it at Evil Girlfriend Media
(minor spoiler for The Force Awakens below)
I broke down and saw the new Star Wars movie, in large part so that I could participate in conversations with my friends. I was hoping I’d be surprised, but I didn’t expect to be bored. I left confused, because there’s all sorts of really great things to like about the movie, but when you put them all together, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Why was it so damn boring?
After days of pondering, I’m pretty sure the movie lost me very early on, in one fatal scene. That being the scene where Rey steals BB8 from a fellow scavenger.
Not because I have a problem with the action itself, but rather because the scavenger doesn’t react. Ray runs up, yells a few mean words at the scavenger, then rips BB8 from the scavenger’s mount to claim him. She scoots away a few steps and starts inspecting her new-found loot. The scavenger scowls and goes about his business.
This is utterly unbelievable. No way is someone going to run up to me while I’m driving, take valuables out of my car, and then wander away a few steps before settling down, without SOME SORT of reaction from me. Especially if I’m a desperate scavenger barely eking out a living. The scavenger presented in that scene is there soley to deliver BB8 to Rey. He didn’t exist before that moment and he won’t exist after it, and he knows this and accepts it.
To make matters worse, Rey is also aware of this. She doesn’t bother to flee or take a defensive position or even keep an eye on the scavenger. She accepts that his role is complete, and he can now pass gracefully from this mortal coil.
In those few seconds, the movie told me everything I needed to know to completely destroy my enjoyment. The director (or writer?) has no respect for his audience. He doesn’t care to speak with them. This is not a story. This is merely a number of set-pieces, loosely strung together. All action loses meaning, because there are no people in this movie. There are only philosophical zombies, progressing through a chronology of events without intention or awareness.
This is not a narrative, it is a 2-hour toy commercial. Made by people who have forgotten how to play with toys.
I realize that all stories are predetermined narratives, all “freely chosen actions” are contrived by the author to suit his goals. But those goals are supposed to include causing his audience to generate a model of a person in their head, and empathizing with that person. When it is clear that the author’s model of the characters aren’t living people, but rather of empty dolls that fill in the people-shaped holes in a spectacle, it becomes impossible to empathize with them. And so, watching hollow plastic pieces being continuously re-arranged in dramatic poses for the camera, I was bored.
It could have been a good story, had anyone cared to tell one.
Entertainment Weekly took a GIANT SHIT all over the very concept of writing fiction of any sort, let alone fanfiction. “Submit your best fanfic” they say. From the terms and conditions: “Entries become sole property of Sponsor and none will be acknowledged or returned.” To quote Rachael Acks:
“if you EVER see anything that says anyone other than you becomes the sole owner of your writing, unless it comes with a fucking enormous check (and it better be HUGE), you say NO.
In non-abusive contracts, it’s all about the assignment of extremely specific rights (eg: first world electronic rights) with rights not negotiated still remaining with the writer. The writer still retains copyright. You as the writer still own the story; you are negotiating with the publisher for their use of it.”
It’s worth reading the rest of her post, it’s short. This is an abusive contract so bad the people who proposed it should be fired and never let near the publishing industry again. Yeah, I know, “It’s just fanfic”, right? No, screw that. It’s not about the content. No contract offered by a professional publisher should ever contain such a ridiculous rights-grab unless both parties are very aware what is going on, and there is a big payout. This is pure exploitation, and the callous indifference it requires to offer such a contract to excited new writers is disgusting. Anyone with a shred of professional integrity or self-respect would have stopped this dead in its tracks on principle.
At the very least, the person who approved this has a lot of answer for, and a hell of an apology to make. This sort of contempt of the rights of writers shows a contempt for fiction in its entirety.
This post contains MASSIVE spoilers for The Traitor Baru Cormorant, by Seth Dickinson. Please note that this is one of the few books were that is actually a really big deal. The ending changes a lot about what you thought you knew, and knowing that beforehand changes how you will read the book. If you have any desire at all to read the book, turn back now.
If you don’t have any desire to read the book, but have time to read a short story, consider reading the short story before you continue. Because, again, the spoilers I’m going to be getting into are really big, and I would hate to deny anyone the opportunity to read such an amazing piece of fiction unspoiled.
You know those people who go to see a movie adapted from a book, and then turn up their nose afterwards and say “The book was better”? Everyone hates those people. Of course the first medium you experienced the story in will always be better! Get over yourself! I really, really hate to be that person. But the Traitor Baru short story was better than the Traitor Baru novel. The novel was still good! Just not as good. I’ve been trying to figure out why. And I succeeded.
Well ok, I have a half-assed theory. But it’s something.
The Traitor Baru short story takes place after The Twist. We only see Baru after she’s betrayed everyone she loves for the greater good. Everyone who ever cared for her despises her now (if they’re still alive), and the populace of the country she was fighting for consider her a villain. This is all conveyed indirectly, via precision-guided sentences that get the point across as emotionally as possible with as little word-count as possible. This leaves us to fill in all the blanks. And what do we do when we fill in the blanks? We fall back on Tropes. Or Cultural Myths, or Archetypes, or whatever you want to call them.
What this means is that Baru was the Rebel Princess in my mind. The Leia or the Xena – a shining leader, beloved by her lieutenants and loyal soldiers. When she betrayed them, it was like Leia killing Luke, Han, and Chewie in cold blood, and giving their corpses to the Emperor. It was all the people of those planets, fighting for the Rebels, suddenly under the Empire’s heel again, and he is NOT happy with what’s been going on. Seriously bad times for all.
Likewise, I filled in Baru’s relationship with her lover as deep and passionate, having withstood all the typical fantasy trials. When Baru gave Tain Hu up, Baru was The Dread Pirate Roberts/Wesley, handing over Buttercup to Humperdink.
That was why the brain injury was such a central part of the short story. It was Baru’s escape mechanism. She could turn her blind side on her betrayals, and she would forget about them. She could turn away from her lover, and she wasn’t there anymore. It was the Novocain for her soul, the past-annihilating numbness that allowed her to live with what she’d done. Without that escape mechanism, she likely would have killed herself already. At the very least, she’d be an ineffectual infiltrator, since her guilt-wracked conscience would give her away.
And that was what made the ending so simultaneously heart-wrenching and gratifying. In the end, Baru turns toward her lover. She could look away, have the execution erased from her mind, but instead she watches as Tain Hu is dashed against the rocks over and over. It is an acceptance. An acceptance of Tain Hu’s sacrifice, and her love. It it’s Baru’s moment of growth, where she realizes she is strong enough to continue forward. It is her reaffirmation that her goal (freedom from the evil empire) is worth the price she has paid and is paying. Fuck them. She can overcome even this. They will have nothing to use against her.
(I also love this story because it acknowledges that love for your loved ones is a weapon that your enemies can use against you, which is a deep and unreasonable fear of mine, and which is why I’ve kept myself emotionally isolated much of my life. This story is an affirmation that you can love, and have that love used against you, and still not be destroyed. It’s like the counter-thesis to that Iain Banks novel that I won’t name because I don’t want to spoil yet another novel. Point is, I love this story, and I love Seth Dickinson for writing it.)
The “problem” with the novel is that it doesn’t conform to the standard fantasy tropes.
“What?” you say. “How is that a problem? I’m sick and tired of all the standard fantasy tropes!” I agree, I am too. And obviously Seth Dickinson was as well. Can you imagine sitting down to write 100,000 words of fantasy to pound out another cliché Rebels vs Empire story? Ain’t nobody want to do that, least of all an aspirational rising talent! So instead he wrote an interesting plot, full of interesting characters, with lots of intrigue and political wrangling, and very shrewd and intelligent gambits. It’s a good story, and it would make a good novel, except it is supposed to bring us back to the Baru of the short story.
I had come into the novel expecting to see some sort of Star Wars-like story, with strong bonds between the rebels, and a passionate ongoing romance with Tain Hu. Instead we see rebels that are constantly infighting, suspicious, looking to back-stab each other, and are clearly using Baru simply to further their own agendas. I don’t mind as much when these people are betrayed. The empire, rather than being typical Fantasy Nazis, are distasteful and sometime horrifying, but ultimately more pragmatic than pure evil, and they bring a lot of good things to the people they conquer to offset some of the evil & oppression. Tain Hu, rather than being the love of Baru’s life, is kept at a distance the entire book, and they don’t even confess their love to each other until just a few pages before the betrayal. That’s not Wesley and Buttercup. It’s more akin to Trinity’s confession to Neo.
I was asked in my book club “What was the brain injury in the last chapter for?”, which I think is a great encapsulation of the problem with the novel. In the short story it is a crucial aspect of the story, the characters, and the resolution. In the novel it shows up so briefly that it doesn’t have any narrative weight. It feels extraneous. The short story depends, ultimately, on a subversion of classic fantasy tropes. We already have the entire Rebel Princess story in our minds, and Traitor Baru takes that story, turns it upside down, then puts it right-side up again, while stabbing you repeatedly and telling you “This is what it takes to win in the real world. If your fantasy stories were real, these are the choices your heroes would be facing. Isn’t this a better story?” AND IT IS! When Dickinson wrote the novel, he kept that Rationalist view. He wrote a fantasy story that would make sense if it was in the real world. Not Fantasy Nazis and Shining Heroes, but real people and realpolitik. And that blunts what made the Traitor Baru story such a knife-in-the-heart to me. The betrayal at the end of the novel didn’t feel like someone amputating their own limbs. It wasn’t a loss of everything good. It was just another manipulation in a book full of manipulations and treachery. A bigger one than any we had seen previous, of course. But not unusual. It was true to character, rather than a betrayal of our ideals. I didn’t feel it would lead to suicidal levels of guilt and self-hatred.
That being said, I HATE to have said all this. I contemplated for many days before posting this. Because (as Seth has said in the past) nowadays no one engages short fiction. Traitor Baru is excellent, and I’ve recommended it a few times to people. But I’ve never posted about it at length deconstructing what made it great, until the novel came out. The Traitor Baru novel has been mentioned many times on many “Best of 2015” lists, but was the short story on any such lists? Even though the short story is better? For that matter, do you recall seeing very many “Best Short Story” lists ever, at NPR or IO9 or wherever you get your news? Nope. People simply value novels far more than short stories, and it’s a damned shame. It’s likely that the Traitor Baru novel has gotten far more reads than the Traitor Baru story, even though the story is less than 1/10th the length, has been out far longer, and is freely available to everyone online! (and IMHO is better)
I even feel guilty trying to point people at the story rather than the novel, because Dickinson has got to pay his rent and buy food, and short stories don’t pay. If you want to make a living writing, you have to write novels. Each person that I convince to read the short story instead of the novel is money I am taking out of Dickinson’s pocket. :( And, if I was given the choice to read either the story or the novel, I would tell past-me to read the story instead, and pay more for the privilege than I would have paid for the novel. It is a far more efficient use of my time, and I am willing to pay extra to get the same emotional payoff (“entertainment” as I call it) in less time. It leaves me more free time to pursue my other pursuits.
So, if you really like the Traitor Baru short story, please do not punish Seth Dickinson for his genius. Buy the novel, to say thank you, even if you don’t read it. And, next time you read a truly amazing short work, please consider purchasing something from the author, even if you’ll never read it, to support their work.
A literary agent I’m acquainted with recently posted “we’re getting wind that publishers are extremely wary of buying diverse books by “non-diverse” authors because they don’t want to deal with readers’ accusations of cultural appropriation.”
If I can only ever write white male middle-class characters in my stories, I will kill myself.
It’s just plain bad art too. I remember reading a book where every character read like a middle-aged Canadian male, (yes, including the teenage girl and the alien intelligence) and I was bored to tears. I want multiple perspectives from various people in my novels, and most of them will not match that of the author.
And do the people pushing this not bother thinking about the consequences of their own agendas? If gay authors can only write gay characters, women authors can only write women characters, black authors can only write black characters, etc, this hurts everyone. There will be less interesting fiction to read, and far fewer stories that any author can tell. How does it help women authors to tell Anne Rice that only men are allowed to write male POV sections?
There are three major Speculative Fiction periodicals in the USA that still print on dead trees – Asimov’s, F&SF, and Analog. They’ve been around for a very long time, and due to their longevity and physical presence, they are considered the most prestigious to be published in. Most of the authors I know want to be published in them more than anywhere else, and send their new works to them first.
I respect this and I’m impressed when friends make sales to them.
But they are not my first choice for publication. None of them are even in my Top 3. Because when I get published in a print magazine NONE OF THE PEOPLE I LOVE CAN READ MY STORY!
It isn’t easy getting a copy of one of these magazines. I have to find a Barnes & Noble in my area (or one of the very rare non-B&N brick-and-mortar bookstores), root around in the neglected corners of their hidden magazine racks for a half hour (seriously, the SF lit stuff is almost impossible to find), only to find out that the June Issue of the magazine doesn’t actually come out in June!! (wtf print publications?) I’m too late! Then I find out I have to pay an amount approaching the cost of many eBooks for what is in effect a single short story, since I don’t care about any of the other stuff in there. And then on top of all that, I’m doing all this for a story I haven’t even read yet. I may not even LIKE it!
And no, I can’t buy an e-copy of a single issue, at least not without spending a half hour trying to figure out how to do that without buying a full-year’s subscription as well, and I’m not gonna be hassled into that.
So, how many authors am I willing to go through this process for? Exactly three: Chiang, Watts, and Dickinson.
I hate that I can’t recommend some of my favorite stories to my friends, because there’s no way for them to read them. I didn’t bother posting about “Three Bodies at Mitanni” at /r/rational, because how would anyone there get to read it anyhow? I have the same problem with “Liking What You See”. I am insanely happy that I can recommend “The Things” to everyone, because that’s available online! I do so all the time, and it always makes me all excited inside, imagining what they’ll be feeling the first time they read it.
For that reason I generally go with the online publications first, whenever I can. Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Tor.com, Apex, Beneath Ceaseless Skies. If I get published in one of these, I can actually link to it. I can tell my friends, my family, my podcast listeners, and even the sometimes the guys on /r/rational, that I have written something, and here it is! Come take a look! :) I can’t do that with the Big Three paper publications.
Perhaps even more to the point – paper disappears quickly. It’s on the shelves for one month, and then it’s gone forever. The internet offers some modicum of permanency. Your story will still be available for people to read after two months, or two years, or even fifteen years later!
So yes. I respect the prestige of the paper publications. I am honored to have been in one. But I think that given another decade, maybe two at the absolute outside, paper and subscriptions will lose their luster. More and more authors choose to have their works appear in the free-to-read online publications whenever they can. Because for most of us, what really matters is connecting to our readers. And you can’t connect to people if they can’t even read your work.
All of which is to say – now that the rights for the story I sold to Asimov’s have reverted to me, I’ve put it online so that people can read it.
Although I will give print publications this – they are willing to look at works longer than 7,500 words. It is really hard trying to find a home for anything longer than that online. :(
I think part of the problem is that when writing for humans, you need some human-relatable characters. In most works that include an AI, it’s gotta be at least recognizable as a person. That leads to a lot of “dorky human” characters. Or, perhaps, human-style intelligences that are different in certain ways, but still recognizably human. Such as GLaDOS from Portal, or Prime Intellect from “The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect.” I assume what you’re looking for right now is truly alien intelligences. Thought processes not like our own.
Those are fascinating, but it’s very hard to include them as characters. The best treatments I’ve seen of genuinely non-human intelligences are nigh incomprehensible, and it makes for great horror writing. Such AIs are basically Lovecraftian gods – powerful, inscrutable, and not really characters. The aliens from Peter Watts’s “Blindsight” are my favorite example. Absolutely fascinating, and absolutely unrelatable even in principle. At the furthest extremity these sorts of intelligences are like The Thing Behind Area X in the Southern Reach Trilogy (altho I haven’t read the third book yet, so I may be wrong). Based on the first two books, it is hard to say that there is even a thought process there. Is The Thing sentient, or just a force of nature? Is it a babbling incoherent force at the center of all things? Another great example of this (taken from real life!) is Yudkowsky’s short “An Alien God”.
But if you’re going for a happy medium – an intelligence that is mind-warpingly alien, but still comprehensible, and able to interact with humans on human terms – than I think your best bets are Peter Watt’s “The Things” and Peter Hamilton’s “Pandora’s Star”. In both cases the Intelligence is an alien rather than a machine, but really, what’s the difference when it all comes down to it?
AAAAHHHHH!!!!! I WILL BE PUBLISHED A SECOND TIME!!! My short story “Of All Possible Worlds” will be in “Swords v Cthulhu”, coming out early next year!
I will have written at least two things worth a damn before I die!!!!! :D :D :D
I dashed off a little short story, inspired by the Sad Puppies Hugo Fiasco. I had fun writing it, I hope someone finds it enjoyable to read. :)
Amazing Man flew over the Los Angeles sprawl at a good clip. He’d thought of it as his “patrolling pace” just a few short weeks ago. A high enough speed to cover a lot of ground, but not so fast that he couldn’t track all the small-scale human movements below. It was still too fast for a cape though. The wind would whip it so loudly he couldn’t hear himself think, and his thoughts were pretty important. It was even fast enough to rip the breath from anyone who needed to breathe, so it was a good thing he didn’t. His chest rose and fell out of habit, an affectation he’d adopted to put the people around him at ease.
In a sense this was still patrolling, but now he was looking for slabs of lead shielding rather than crimes in progress. That was the byproduct of another previous effort to put humans at ease, by affording them a sense of privacy. He could, in actuality, see through lead without a problem. He’d been so stupid back then, hopping back and forth like the oblivious nerd trying to impress the popular girl, thinking he had a chance. Even last month he’d let those orphans smear their greasy hands all over his costume, smiling the while. They had no idea how hard it was to get stains out of it! He couldn’t just take it to the dry cleaner. And no Amazing Fabric Cleaning Vision either. All the positions he’d twisted himself into, trying to make the humans happy! For years! And for what? Well, at least one good thing had come from his naiveté–now lead shielding acted like a neon sign flashing “Insurgents Here!”
Los Angeles was in better shape than most other major cities. The fighting here had been brief. The populace had already seen how futile resistance was, and the National Guard had defected to his side before he’d even arrived. He’d probably be able to lift his personal overwatch from LA in a matter of weeks. He hated when people referred to it as martial law. That was downright ungrateful. He kept tabs on the insurgent sympathizers who said it. It was his duty, as the liberator and overlord of America, to ensure that his subjects could enjoy lives free from civil strife. Amazing very much believed in the personal responsibility ethic of “you break it, you bought it.” Even if he’d fixed it rather than broken it.
As he flew over a suburb he spotted a lead slab, installed to shield a basement. He zoomed in with his Amazing Vision and saw a group of young men sitting in a circle, tapping away on their phones furiously. His Amazing Hearing was well-known, no one would speak a word against him aloud anymore, but that was no impediment to the youth. It was almost as if the past five years had been a training regimen to prepare the populace in audio-free communication. Come to think of it, that wasn’t so implausible. It was too bad Steve Jobs couldn’t be brought in for interrogation anymore. Unless… he had faked his own death?? The possibility was intriguing. Amazing would love to end this whole resistance fiasco just by punching the right guy hard enough. Counterinsurgency was frustratingly difficult.
Amazing focused on the tiny phone screens to confirm his targets. Rallying cries of “Death to tyrants!” and “We are Americans, we kill kings!” Really hurtful stuff. He was a far more benevolent ruler than those self-interested liars that had kept getting elected. He altered his course to home in on the insurgents. They didn’t look like he’d expected insurgents to look, with turbans and beards. They looked just like any other group of teens gathered for a social event. Heads bowed over phones, fingers flying, not a word being said. If it wasn’t for the lead shielding above them he wouldn’t have given them a second glance.
He dropped into the basement feet-first, punching through the house above like an unpopular rocker leaping onto an unwilling crowd. He’d intended to appear in their midst with the clarity of a bolt of lightning, or a much more popular rockstar, but shoddy construction ruined his entrance. Debris crashed around him. The billowing dust obscured all vision. Screams of panic, and at least one of grievous injury, filled the room. Amazing frowned. This was almost as bad as the time he’d crashed Dr. Vile’s nephew’s bar mitzvah, thinking it was an Evil League gathering. Those poor grandmas never knew what hit them. Amazing pursed his lips and blew, clearing the air with his Amazing Breath. Slowly the cries died into shocked silence, aside from the screeching kid in skinny jeans clutching a shattered leg. A bow-tied hipster in the corner quietly pissed himself.
Amazing scanned the room with his Amazing Psychoanalytic Vision to find the insurgent most suited to his needs. The one who would be most terrified by what was about to happen, and who would tell everyone he could of the horror of this afternoon. Amazing didn’t have the time to root out every single insurgent cell. He needed to give the impression that he was aware of all subversive action and always just a moment away from crushing it. He figured the best way to do that would be to strike at random times and places across the nation and make sure everyone knew what had happened.
After a couple seconds he focused on the dreadlocked hippie type pressed against the back wall. The hippie enjoyed attention, and didn’t believe in staying quiet. Amazing hoped he had a lot of followers on whatever Insta-share thing he used.
With that Amazing burst into action. A single step and he was across the room, up to the elbow in someone’s chest, his fist protruding from their back. A huge sidestep and he was against an exterior wall, one hand pressed against the concrete foundations, a mess of brain pulp and shattered skull under his palm. A spin and a dash–he literally ran through one of the insurgents, the body exploding in a red mist, before grabbing the bow-tied kid’s jaw in one hand and twisting his head off his body. A final step and he was next to the injured kid. He stomped his chest flat in a single motion. From start to finish, less than one second. He knew the hippie couldn’t have followed it. One second everything was fine, the next Amazing Man was dripping gore and the hippie’s friends were so much falling meat.
“I’m tired of your terrorist shit,” Amazing intoned. “It ends now. Consider this your warning.” The kid stared at him, frozen, not even daring to breathe. Amazing held the pose, unsure of how to exit the scene. Back in his self-effacing heroing days people would thank him at this point, which was his cue to be gracious, salute someone, and fly off. This extended pause was awkward, and there was blood trickling under his collar. Could the kid at least acknowledge he’d heard him?
A strained croak escaped from the hippie’s mouth, which would do. Amazing rocketed out of the basement. He accelerated sharply, hoped the wind of his flight would strip him clean, like a super-powerful air hose. Instead it just dried the viscera onto him, leaving his skin sticky and his creases crusty. In annoyance he flared his Amazing Aura, incinerating everything within an inch of his body, aside from his asbestos underwear. Come to think of it, his costume was also a holdover from his days of cringing appeasement and self-abasement. He had the body of a Greek god. From now on that underwear would be the entirety of his costume.
As soon as he dyed it purple, anyway. He couldn’t have an asbestos-grey costume, even a really small one. He wasn’t gauche.
Amazing Man sat in the throne room of his Amazing-Lair-cum-Presidential-Palace, contemplating how to ferret out his secret arch-nemesis Steve Jobs, when he was interrupted by an approaching clamor. One of his newly-minted Lieutenants of Liberty, resplendent in black-and-purple ballistic armor, marched through the opposite doorway. He came before Amazing’s throne and kneeled, head bowed, helmet under his arm. Amazing was uncomfortable with such displays of deference, but he’d once read it was an important ritual among military organizations. His Amazing Psychoanalytic Vision confirmed that his Liberty Legion found it deeply comforting, so he’d mandated the act. He wondered if this was a universal human trait, or if his organization simply tended to attract people who needed this sort of structure.
Then he realized that he was again making himself uncomfortable to pander to the vagaries of the current in-crowd. That the in-crowd were his loyal followers didn’t change a damn thing. He was done being a simpering puppy.
“Stand up,” he snapped. “Report.”
The man rose reverently, but refused to make eye-contact with Amazing. Probably bad news then. Either that or he was intimidated by Amazing’s manly physique. Amazing found he really enjoyed the liberty of his much smaller costume. He should have done this years ago.
It was probably the bad news though. His Legion was flat-out incompetent.
“My lord, we’ve captured the reporter. She is waiting just outside.”
Success on their first try? Amazing blinked in surprise. That was a new record! He’d been this close to adopting Dr. Vile’s style of punitive motivational tactics (he imagined his thumb and forefinger very, very close together). He didn’t have to worry about a henchman uprising like Dr. Vile had suffered, and he’d been getting tired of failure. He eyed the lieutenant skeptically, not quite sure how to react to good news from underlings.
“Bring her in,” Amazing ordered. With his luck they’d gotten the wrong reporter anyway.
The lieutenant returned promptly with three Legionnaires, escorting a feisty, tough-as-nails reporter. Miss Paula Perry, from the State Journal Weekly. Amazing expected her to see the wall behind him at some point, but she was struggling the entire way across the room, and when she’d finally been deposited at the foot of his dais she simply glared directly up at him. All things considered, this was preferable. It would make the reveal so much more dramatic!
“Ah, Miss Perry,” Amazing greeted her with a smile. “You’ve been in hiding since my ascension, and I feared you’d fled the country! I should have known you’d still be here, riling up the masses. Reasonable responses never were your strong suit.”
He’d practiced that line in a mirror, so he knew it delivered the perfect mix of power and contempt.
“I knew this would happen!” Paula spit at him. “I tried to warn everyone! I’d been trying to warn them all from the first day!”
“Oh, I know all about your warnings. I followed your column, devoutly. I read and tracked every word of yours. Every. Single. Lie.”
Paula pulled back in surprise, momentarily speechless.
“You did?” she asked. Amazing grinned down at her. Slowly comprehension dawned over her stupid face. “You were V.Populi77? You? You didn’t have anything better to do than troll the comments of some weekly columnist?”
“You weren’t just some columnist for me. For you see…” Amazing reached back, picked up a pair of black thick-framed glasses from his throne, and slipped them over his face.
Paula eyes bugged out and she gasped in recognition.
“Yes. Your polite, cringing, and unfailingly nice coworker. I was Amazing Man the whole time!”
“That’s why your stories always praised Amazing Man so much.”
“No!” Amazing snarled the word, then calmed himself as its echoes died away. “No. I was simply trying to counteract your constant hate-pieces. In return you and your coterie of Mean Girls attacked me, tore me down in public, and baited the rest of the journalistic world into hating Amazing Man!”
“But everyone else loved you! Your columns were way more popular than mine! They’re why people read the paper.”
“So you admit my work was better?” Amazing demanded.
“Well… I mean, it was definitely better liked…”
“Then how do you explain THIS!?” Amazing stepped to the side and with a sweep of his arm gestured grandly at the wall behind the throne. “Last year when I was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, for an incredible in-depth piece on Amazing Man, I was passed over and the Prize was given to this vile hate-piece instead!”
The wall was solid marble, forty feet wide and rising to a gothic arch seventy feet up. Starting five feet from the top was the full text of a State Journal Weekly article, carved into the marble in giant letters. Amazing had carved those letters himself, with his Amazing Cutting Vision, seething all the while. He’d had to focus carefully, exercising control not to cut deeper on the most infuriating lines.
“Amazing Man Amazingly Narcissistic. -Paula Perry; SJW, Nov 14 2018
As the city throws another parade in Amazing Man’s honor, perhaps we should take a moment to ask if our thanks aren’t misplaced.
In a world of crashing climates, is the best use of a massive super-natural force really the stopping of muggings and personal crime? Millions starve, hundreds of millions are displaced, civil conflict and disease run rampant in half the world. How many could be saved if Amazing Man used his strength to keep a series of massive dynamos spinning? Free, limitless energy would end half our conflicts, and break humanity’s carbon addiction.
Or what if Amazing Man were to allow himself to be studied by scientists, so we could determine the source of his powers?
Consider even the event that has prompted our latest parade, the poisoning of the city’s water supply. While we are all grateful to have been saved by Amazing Man, revelation of his Amazing Water-Purification Vision raises alarming questions. How many lives could he save by providing clean water in developing countries? How many other powers does he have that he isn’t telling us about?
And yet where do we see him? In showy fights with evil geniuses. Or punching common thugs. Flashy actions that are always caught on camera and praised. He is conspicuously absent from the sort of high-impact work that doesn’t come with limelight.
More than anything else, Amazing Man seems to crave affirmation, and anyone who doesn’t provide it for him can go hang. One can only shudder to think what he might do if the news cycle ever changes focus and the affirmation he needs begins to drain away.”
It had been carved in the same font the State Journal Weekly used.
It even included the small stock photo of Amazing Man that had run with the column, carved into the wall in bas-relief.
Slowly Paula turned her gaze back to Amazing.
“Are you saying this is my fault?” she asked.
“All of you ivory-tower snobs, trying to tell the rest of us how to live our lives. I was just trying to make the world a better place! But I didn’t fit into your little clique, didn’t toe your party line, so you attacked me at every opportunity. You tried to destroy my career, while you slandered my good deeds, and your incestuous little group rewarded you for it.”
Paula shook her head, looking dazed. Her eyes kept moving from Amazing’s face to the wall behind him and back again.
“It was worse than I thought,” she said, “You’d never be happy as anything less than a messiah figure. Why not just cut to the chase and call yourself Messiah Man instead? Or The Amazing Christ?”
“And you’re still doing it! You have this need to cast me in the worst possible light. The whole system was corrupt, ruled by out-of-touch elites. The masses loved me, and you sought only to tear me down! I had to take back America for the common man, for the overwhelming majority of us underdogs!”
“And that article of mine,” Paula gestured to the wall, “is what convinced you of this?”
“I’d been so naive before that. I read your columns, but I had faith in the process. I believed that I would be judged by the content of my character. Afterwards I realized I never even had a chance. That’s when I decided things had to change.”
“So all of this…” Paula gestured around herself to indicate the Presidential Palace, the Liberty Legions, and presumably the entire Liberated States of America. “All of this was because you felt snubbed by a group of people you don’t even like?”
Amazing ripped the glasses from his face and crushed them in his fist. His responding roar was super-human, shattering all the glass in the Palace and leaving Paula with mild, but permanent, hearing loss.
“It’s about ethics in superhero journalism!”
Emilio won a Pulitzer that year, as well as a Peabody, an Oscar, a Grammy, a Dobby, and a Tony Award; all purely on merit and not for any other reason at all. Amazing Man won the Nobel Peace Prize. That last one raised a few eyebrows, but it was pointed out that the Peace Prize had previously been awarded to people with a much higher body count than Amazing Man had managed, and wouldn’t it be better to keep it that way? It was hard to argue with that logic.
Miss Perry was released, because Amazing Man was above petty things like personal revenge. She is now happily employed as a Field Hand in the Angola Liberty Farm.
In addition to coordinating the Lit Track, I moderated three panels at Denver Comic Con last weekend. This is the audio of the third one. It was near the end of the third day and everyone was exhausted. I missed a few things, and fell into the trap of repeating myself at one point. But overall I think it went really well!
It’s a panel on Religion in SF/F. Panelists are: Amanda Strong, Andrea Stanton, Warren Hammond, Moderator Eneasz Brodski. This was recorded onsite at Denver Comic Con 2015.
Best portrayal of religion in SF/F?
Are SF worlds too secular? What happened to all the religion?
How do you write characters or societies that feel authentically religious without being preachy?