Apr. 1st, 2016

blatherskite: (Default)
Apologies for the long delay between posts... crazy busy, plus working in the few free moments to update Effective Onscreen Editing. The good news is that I now have a first draft of the 3rd edition. The bad news is that I now have to revise it and send it for editing. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, one of my stories was accepted for Superhero Universe, volume 19 in the Tesseracts anthology series. Corey Redekop, one of the authors, offered a series of interview questions so that participating authors could publicize the anthology and express some thoughts on what we'd written. The original interview appears here, on Corey's site, and is republished here with his permission. Herewith, my responses to Corey's questions.

1) Tell us about your story.

Blunt Instruments undoubtedly emerged from my subconscious in response to Marvel’s “Civil War” series of stories, which focused on registration of superheroes so the government could keep an eye on them. To me, the obvious question was what would happen if the government took the obvious next step and weaponized them. The original goal may have been good, but knowing how governments work and how they tend to abuse power...

2) How did the idea for your story come about?

Schenectady. (Reader, if you don’t get the reference, Google the name but add “Ellison”. It’s a whole thing, but it was a long time ago.) More seriously, it was probably motivated by a nearly forgotten quote by a long-ago Canadian politician (a former prime minister, as it happens):

"Politics is the skilled use of blunt objects."—Lester B. Pearson.

Cross that with “civil war” and the results seem inevitable.

3) Were there any superhero-related pitfalls/clichés that you struggled with?

This kind of question always comes down to a subjective response: one person’s archetype is another person’s cliché. The answer always depends on whether you like the story, not whether what you’ve done is objectively cliché or archetype. There’s not much objective about how you respond to fiction, if you’re being honest with yourself. But in my story, I took a few clichés and tried to own them by creating a sympathetic narrator who had no choice other than to deal with them while keeping his sanity.

4) What do you think of the resurgence in superhero movies and television shows?

Society tends to valorize the storytellers who evoke and then soothe their fears, witness the current Trumpzilla craze. (Seriously! You’d never get away with telling that kind of story in fiction. Anything that stupid and illogical has to be truth, not fiction.) I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that the same underlying forces (fear of the way our world is heading and the heartfelt desire for a saviour who won’t require us to think or make any sacrifices) are at work behind the popularity of both superheroes and Trump.

But just to be clear: though I’m sure some superhero fans are also Trump supporters, in no way am I tarring the whole group of fans with that same odious brush. After all, I’m one of that group [superhero fans, not Trump fans]. My point is that the same existential fear expresses itself in different ways.

5) Which superhero could you see yourself being best pals with?

I could see myself befriending any of the good guys. I’ve always had a Galahad (or sometimes Gawain) complex, you see. Which one would I most like to befriend? Probably Hank McCoy (The Beast). He’s got serious geek cred, yet also one of the sweetest personalities imaginable when he’s allowed to be himself.

6) What makes a good hero/villain?

Heroes have to evoke something in us that hungers to be better than we are, to rise above our limitations and be loved despite them. To accomplish something. To make a difference. Villains have to create fear that goes beyond cheap visual effects (splatterpunk). They have to really reach into us and undermine something fundamental about what we believe to be normal, such as the stability of our world. (That’s what makes Lovecraft -- and Stross’ current take on Lovecraft -- work.) One of the best and creepiest examples was Neil Gaiman’s Sandman story about a serial killer’s convention, where one of the killers comments about how he can’t understand why people rhapsodize about their lover’s eyes. After all, if you put them all in a big bowl, I defy you to recognize which ones belong to your lover. *shudders* Guy Gavriel Kaye, in the Fionavar Tapestry, also did a great job of creating a Big Bad who was really, really scary. There, it was the complete lack of empathy for anything human that got me.

7) Best/worst superhero? Why?

I’ve got a weakness for Spiderman; Peter Parker does the “smart outsider who’s really a mensch when it comes right down to it” better than anyone. On the other hand, I’m not fond of Superman. I’m sure he’d be a great neighbour, but as a literary character, he’s just too powerful. His limitations are so limited that you have to twist yourself into convolutions to come up with something that will challenge him. And then it becomes a game of continuously trying to out-super him with new villains that up the ante to unbelievable levels. (This is the pre-reboot Superman; I lost interest before John Byrne and others began trying to make the character less super, more man. I’ve heard good things, but haven’t followed up.)

8) Best/worst supervillain? Why?

The best supervillains are comprehensible: anyone who makes you go “actually, that makes a lot of sense... no, wait!” Any of the ultimately powerful ones are pretty lame and fall on the “worst” side -- take your pick. If they’re that powerful, why are they wasting their time with us?

9) Most underrated/overrated superhero? Why?

I have a fondness for the “big dumb lug” characters, who are usually underestimated because nobody sees that there are depths. Hence my choice of a character in Blunt Instruments. He’s my hommage to Ben Grimm/The Thing, with a little of Guido Carosella/Strong Guy thrown in for good measure.

10) Most valuable/least valuable superpower? Why?

I’d like to say the most valuable power is empathy, since the ability to really “get” someone else gives you enormous power to bridge the distance. But turning every comic book into a rap session about “feelings” would get boring awfully fast. So in terms of bang for the buck, brainpower is what gets you through each new crisis. You could turn me into Superman, and I’d still get my ass kicked -- I just don’t think fast enough on my feet. Least valuable? No power is inherently useless (e.g., Squirrel Girl). It’s all in how you use it.

11) What’s the one superhero cliché you hate above all others?

Can’t think of one, offhand. They’re all clichés because they speak to something we all want to hear more about -- repeatedly. That tells me there’s something powerful underlying them that bears closer examination, and when you really get what’s at the root of the cliché, you can turn it into something powerful. On the other hand, I dearly love the whole cliché about the villain telling the hero about the master plan while there’s still time to stop it. Alan Moore’s bit with Ozymandias subverting this cliché in Watchmen is one of the finest moments in comic fiction, bar none. (Speaking of which, I have to give a shout-out to the Evil Overlord site in case readers haven’t seen it before.)

12) If you could have the powers of one particular superhero for a week, whose powers would you choose and what would you do?

I’ve always fantasized about being a healer -- the kind of character who lays on hands, takes on the wounds of another, and heals them. But after a week, your life would be over: nobody in the world would believe your powers were gone, and you’d be endlessly harassed by people you could never help, and saying no would be excruciating. More practically, I’d want a week of super-brains: enough mindpower to be able to think through the really difficult problems and solve them. To be someone like Reed Richards or Tony Stark who could solve global warming, the energy crisis, clean water, viruses, psychopathy... and on and on. Ideally, earn enough money from doing so to found something parallel to the Gates Foundation that would enable those good works to continue in the long-term by bringing together the finest minds to work on these problems.

13) Favourite/least favourite particular superhero media? (i.e. a particular comic book issue, movie, book, or television show)

No opinion: If it’s done well, the medium is irrelevant to me (except insomuch as the medium shapes the message, so some messages may be impossible without appropriate support from a specific medium). I haven’t seen any live-action theatrical superhero fiction, but there’s something about in-person performances that can be magical in a way that TV and movies can’t be. I’d love to see someone do that well. The Spiderman musical, only done on a much smaller and more human scale with more heroism and less special effects and stunts.

14) Which do you prefer, superhero stories of a “realistic and gritty” nature or stories of a more fantastical bent?

Different stories at different times, but definitely more on the realistic and gritty end of the spectrum. The problem I have with the fantastic end of the spectrum is that it’s too open-ended, and tends to make things too easy for the hero. I prefer heroes who have to work hard, using only what they’ve got, to win. If they can magically come up with any solution necessary to solve a problem, that’s much less interesting to me than someone who has to stretch limited resources (mental or otherwise) to solve their problem.

15) Where do you hope future superhero stories will take us?

There’s still so much to explore: issues of race, poverty, all the -isms that are destroying the world or making us fight over problems we should be cooperating to solve. Heroes, super or otherwise, inspire us to grapple with the problems and find solutions.

16) Add your own question.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Alan Moore, who is brilliant, points out that this is perhaps the central question about any great power. In the end, we have to self-police, and when we can’t, things can get ugly fast.


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