In an attempt to get back to my nerd roots, I’ve been seeking out a lot of old sci-fi lately. That’s sci-fi radio, the original Jeckyll & The Time Machine, some old sci-fi short stories … and this here book by Richard Matheson, “Button, Button.”
Mattheson wrote a lot of old Twilight Zone episodes (the few that Serling didn’t write himself), and did the original stories for “I Am Legend,” “Somewhere in Time” and “What Dreams May Come.” The proximate cause for this collection is the movie “The Box,” starring Cameron Diaz, based on the title story “Button, Button.”
The stories themselves cover a lot of ground. The title story feels like original Twilight Zone. In my head, I saw it in black and white, the wife played by Agnes Moorehead or someone like that. The twist is pretty corny, but there are worse ways to pass 20 minutes.
“Girl of My Dreams” reads like an especially dark Twilight Zone … a small-time hood romances a girl who can see the future, and is left with a terrible prophecy for himself. “Mute” is a domestic drama about a mute boy who can read feelings, not words. A few are lighthearted, like “A Flourish of Strumpets,” about a door-to-door prostitution service; and “The Creeping Terror” a truly wacky piece about Los Angeles spreading across the country. I’m not so sure that didn’t happen.
I read this book about six months ago, and I had to get it back out of the library to review it. Danged if I could remember any of the individual stories, other than “Mute” and “Button, Button.” I just have an impression of SO MANY TWIST endings.
In terms of quality, it’s solid. But more than that, the stories tend to be about ideas, rather than being action movies in space, as much of our modern sci-fi is. And it’s an interesting look at the early days of our sci-fi cliches.
I’ve talked a little bit about the difference between “good” vs. “right” in the genre context.
For example, I think Dark Knight Rises is a “good” movie, but it’s not necessarily “right” when it comes to Batman. Any movie where Batman quits, and then Alfred quits, is “wrong” in my book.
The thing that clarified this for me was Dr. Who. I got into Dr. Who about 18 months ago, blowing through the Christopher Eccleston season and moving through David Tennant’s tenure.
Under Craig Bogart’s advice and tutelage, I expanded to some of the “classic” Dr. Who and moved forward into the Matt Smith years. And I’ve learned two things.
1. My favorite Doctors are David Tennant and Jon Pertwee, who are probably the most “wrong.” Tennant falls in love with humans all the time, and Pertwee is way too much of an action hero.
2. I don’t love the new showrunner, Steven Moffat. The stories are fun, and Matt Smith is a joy, but … The stories rely too much on the Doctor’s reputation. They start really strong, then end with an ass-pull. You can break any of them by asking “why don’t they just shoot him?” But Matt Smith’s Doctor is a lot more in line with the character as he’s been defined over the previous 50 years.
So here’s a case where I clearly prefer “good” over the “right.”
Is there any other genre where “good” vs. “right” is so important? Do romance fans complain that their heroine’s bodice doesn’t get ripped the right way? Do Law & Order fans complain when Lennie Briscoe isn’t snarky enough? Or is this our special burden as nerds?
For which properties do you prefer right, and which ones do you prefer good?
(Image courtesy friend-of-the-Ferret Jeff Carlisle)
Hey, I have a webcomic version of “Downs.” It’s been running for a few months, but I’ve held off promoting it until I could get the site really straight. But you hate to let the “perfect” be the enemy of the “good,” so …
The current storyline is “The Evil Eye” with artist Tom Williams. So check it out, tweet it, facebook it, and thanks.
That’s updating every Sunday at ITradedMyEyes.com.
Let me state up front that any attempt to analyze Jack Kirby’s New Gods is probably doomed to failure. The King was worked too instinctively to submit to a linear analysis. Grant Morrison probably comes closest, but he still falls flat with ideas like “weaponized metaphors” and whatnot. Everyone who follows Kirby sounds like they’re trying too hard.
This won’t stop me from trying, however.
I am referring to the original text, Kirby’s Fourth World saga and the Hunger Dogs, rather than the canon that has built up after it.
I’ve already established that Darkseid is Not So Big; also, he’s Not So Evil. In the original series, he’s the only citizen of Apokalips shown expressing any human emotion, as he openly pines for old friends he’s disintegrated. Although he enjoys messing with people’s heads, he doesn’t enjoy violence. Darkseid refers to war as “the cold game of the butcher.” When we see a younger Darkseid, Steppenwolf refers to him as being meek.
In the original Kirby Konception, he’s one of the more nuanced and sympathetic characters in the piece. He starts out as Space Hitler, moves through Space Nixon, and ends up as Space King Lear by the time of “The Hunger Dogs.” Why does Kirby depict him in such a soft light? It’s possible that, as Kirby spent more time with Darkseid, he became more sympathetic to his great villain. But let me search for a different interpretation.
First, let me zoom out: What is a god? From a late 20th-century perspective, we’re used to a god who is more-or-less a superhero. He is all-powerful, but He also takes a keen interest in people’s lives and their individual situations. He may be vengeful or He may be helpful; it’s His choice.
One premodern view holds that gods are more like forces of nature than rational beings. They fit predefined roles and fight pre-ordained battles. Apollo must drive his fiery chariot across the sky every day. Ishtar’s lover must die every year, and her tears bring the spring rains. Shiva must unmake the world. Jesus must die on the cross. Zeus must turn into a swan and get his freak on.
Humans in Jack Kirby’s New Gods have little ability to fight the gods, but on the other hand, they have free will. They may choose to fight or run away. They may choose sides and switch back. Most New Gods, by contrast, follow their nature. The only New Gods who struggle against their natures are Orion, who follows his warlike nature but channels it to “good” ends; and Darkseid, who at times seems downright conflicted.
In his later depictions as the “end boss” of the DCU, Darkseid is often depicted as the “god of evil.” I believe that gets him wrong. He’s rather the god of ambition. But as one of the less powerful New Gods, that leads him to a life of scheming. He must learn to suppress his hunger for power and take the long view. And the main skill he needs, as a manipulator, is the ability to read people.
Once he learns to see the world through other peoples’ points of view, he opens himself up to choice. More crucially, he opens himself up to self-doubt. I would argue he essentially abandons his godhood (and becomes more human) in his pursuit of ultimate power.
That’s dangerous for Darkseid. He is no longer a god, and he must create ever-elaborate monuments to himself to cover it. The incessant displays of power show a creature who is deeply insecure about his position.
My sense is that the other Apokaliptians would be happy to just make war forever, but Darkseid knows he can’t afford a protracted conflict. He doesn’t have the stomach for it. In seeking the Anti-Life Equation, he seeks a way to control the universe without bloodshed – before his subjects smell his weakness and tear him to pieces.
My impression of SPACE 2013 is actually a series of compliments.
First, there was Bryan (I didn’t catch his last name) from Cincinnati, who told me my current artwork looks a lot better than my stuff from 2006. Generally, I think it’s better, but not wildly better.
Second, I got a couple of good comments on Downs issue 3, “Teckeli” (with art by Boisterous Brent Bowman). One guy said it was a great update of Lovecraftian themes.
On to compliments from me: One of my new favorite things is Parisel313, who kinda bullied me into paying $1 for an unknown number of one-page gag strips. They’re the kind of middle-school margin-doodle comics I remember from the early days of SPACE, but really witty, and with just that right touch of outsider art. Check out Parisel313.
I read a few of those Saturday night, so I was able to shake his hand Sunday and thank him for making the sale.
But my best went to a guy named Gabriel Dunston of Firelights Media. His wife bought one of mine, so I wandered over to his table to see his stuff. We bonded over our childrens’ love of My Little Pony and, even though he’s an Applejack fan, I picked up one of his children’s books.
It’s called “There’s a Monster in the Bathroom” and my daughter loved it. We read it three times, and we actually acted it out. She ran into the bathroom, pretended to see a scary monster, and I pretended to get it.
So I got to tell Gabriel this in person, and I got to see a grown man do a completely unironic fist-pump. “That made my day,” he said.
I’ve been going to SPACE so long, I now have two “I’ve been going to SPACE so long” stories.
When I first started going, everyone had xeroxed stuff from Kinko’s. My stuff was 8 pp, xeroxed, and I traded people for things. I didn’t purchase hardly anything. I just traded.
As print-on-demand and Kablam came up, more people had $3 glossies. Nobody wants to trade a $3 glossy for your xeroxed minicomic. So I adapted, and I started doing $3 glossies. (Actually $2, because they don’t do me any good in a box in my spare bedroom).
The $3 glossy carries an element of risk: Nobody wants to get issue 2 of a 12-issue maxiseries, then wait another year to see you at the next SPACE. And there’s a risk that you’ll fail to finish the story, or you won’t make it back to SPACE.*
So that brings us to my second “I’ve been going to SPACE so long” story: This seems to be the year everyone switched over to $8-10 graphic novels. So I saw a lot of stuff that looked awesome, but I’m only going to be able to plunk down money for one or two things tomorrow.
Ain’t economics grand? Stay tuned for 2015, when it’s a room full of people with Kindle Fires to show their webcomics, and little postcards to remind people of the URL.
* This is why Downs stories are self-contained.
In other publishing news, friend-of-the-Ferret Terry Eisele’s four-year labor of love, “With Only Five Plums,” is now available through Amazon’s CreateSpace.
Terry describes it thusly:
With Only Five Plums addresses the same themes as Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Joe Kubert’s Yossel, and Miriam Katin’s We Are on Our Own. The story is set in Germany and Czechoslovakia before, during, and after World War II. It is told through the recollections of one of the massacre’s few survivors, Anna Nesporova. The author, Terry Eisele, interviewed Ms. Nesporova on four occasions for a total of almost fifteen hours in the mid-1990s. These interviews provide the foundation of the graphic novel. The story is told in three chapters.
Art is from local boy Jonathon Riddle, who tore out 320 pages to bring this beast to life. There’s a taste at the top of the post.
Terry will be at SPACE if you want to chat with him in person, or head on over to Amazon’s CreateSpace and give him your money right now.
I was saddened yesterday to read that Iain M. Banks, one of my favorite authors, has late-stage cancer.
I have cancer. It started in my gall bladder, has infected both lobes of my liver and probably also my pancreas and some lymph nodes, plus one tumour is massed around a group of major blood vessels in the same volume, effectively ruling out any chance of surgery to remove the tumours either in the short or long term.
The bottom line, now, I’m afraid, is that as a late stage gall bladder cancer patient, I’m expected to live for ‘several months’ and it’s extremely unlikely I’ll live beyond a year. So it looks like my latest novel, The Quarry, will be my last.
The loss of a human life is always sad. I could easily write this post about Roger Ebert, Carmine Infantino, or my friend Courtney, or any of thousands of poor bastards in Syria. But here’s what sticks out for me:
2. Many of Banks’ recent works center on death the afterlife … specifically the idea that there is no afterlife. In Banks’ Culture novels, anyone who believes in an afterlife is frankly treated as delusional. However, they have the technology to “back up” an entire life and “revent” you into a new body. Other civilizations upload their dead to a computer, and thus achieve an actual virtual afterlife. Banks can clearly imagine eternal life, but he won’t live to see it.
3. It must be torture to die with the kind of imagination Iain M. Banks has. Banks is a master at matter-of-factly describing the really horrible. I’m recalling a scene from “Matter” where a character is beheaded, but is conscious long enough to unleash an antimatter bomb. I’m recalling another scene where a character is stabbed in the heart, and Banks describes all of her sensations until her consciousness fades out.
Got you from the title, right? In truth, it’s crazier than that.
Sex & Rockets is a book about Jack Parsons, one of the cofounders of what became NASA’s Jet Propulsion lab. He was a pioneer in early rocketry, perfecting solid-fuel rockets that grew into the space program.
Aaaaaand he was an occultist and a close follower of Aleister Crowley. He did a 12-day spell to bring about the goddess Babalon, and the spell apparently brought in a hot, crazy redhead. And his roommate for a while was L. Ron Hubbard, who stole his girlfriend. Oh, and he was influential in the budding Libertarian movement. And he blew himself up in 1952.
Author John Carter draws heavily on primary sources, such as Parsons’ spell notes, his own writings, and his extensive correspondence with Crowley. So Carter doesn’t get too much into Parsons’ head, but the primary sources are still pretty amazing.
If you’re curious about the wild and woolly early days of rocketry — or want an intro to Crowley’s scene — here you go.
I can’t stop thinking about story ideas. What if the whole rocket thing was just a way to stick a thumb in the eye of God … or prove He doesn’t exist? And JPL is where they made the Mars rovers … maybe there’s a black magic working on the red planet?
I09.com had a neat rundown of the book, or you can get it (as I did) from your local library.
Via Diversions of the Groovy Kind, here’s my favorite comic book artist doing a story by one of my favorite sci-fi writers. It’s Howard Chaykin on Larry Niven’s “All the Myriad Ways.”
It’s a neat little sci-fi “grabber” about a rash of philosophical suicides after the discovery of multiple timelines.
Oddly enough, Ol’ Groove notes that this same story was adapted another time, by Jeffrey Catherine Jones. The Jones version is shorter, and thus has a bit more impact, whereas the Chaykin version is longer and includes more setup and action. It’s really fascinating how they both approached the same story, and use some of the same verbiage.
In advance of Gem City Comic Con, our own Andy B3nn3tt posted the following on facebook:
I swear, Andy doesn’t use any more lines that I do. They just fall in the right spot. I believe this is a commission, so hit him up if you want one.
Gem City is this weekend, March 23-24, at the Nutter Center in Dayton. I’m a little bummed to miss it; Howard Chaykin will be there.
Buzzfeed has a rundown of some of the top comic books of 1993, which was apparently the high-water mark for comic book sales.
The only of these books I bought were Robin No. 1, Static No. 1 and Death: The High Cost of Living No. 3.
I dropped Batman a year or so before, and The Shadow Strikes wrapped in 1992. I was never an X-fan, and I missed the Rob Liefeld arm of the Image-Verse. I remember my friend Jason had the return of Superman in art class, and I read Deathmate many years later. I went to college the next year, and my fandom went more-or-less dormant until I got into Starman and Transmetropolitan around 1998.
I notice I’m less negative about the 1990s than a lot of people are. Apparently that’s because I missed it.
I do remember Static, though. Milestone comics were a pretty exciting development for me, back in those days. “You don’t start none, there won’t be none.”
An update from Dara “Duke” Naraghi on Persia Blues:
“My publisher NBM is doing something they’ve never done before: they’re serializing my graphic novel Persia Blues as 4 digital “issues” before the print edition comes out. And right now, you can pick up the first part (28 pages of story) for a mere 99 cents through the Comixology app.”
Hey, thanks to everyone who came out to see us at Ace of Cups this weekend. Next time we’ll, uh, try to post something about it before the show.
In coming attractions, here’s a detail from Tom’s and my story for Panel 20: Columbus. Why yes, that is a gorilla climbing the Leveque Tower.
Why would there be a gorilla on the Leveque Tower? You’ll find out.
And in Persia Blues news, here’s a detail of a lion fight.
You had me from “lion fight.”
Persia Blues is coming your way this fall from NBM Publications, from Dara “Duke” Naraghi and Boisterous Brent Bowman.