The basic idea of Impossible Takes a Little Longer is that superpowers are normal, superheroes are not.
Lots of people have paranormal abilities; only comic book nerds like my protagonist KC, dress up in costume. Which is not meant as any sort of metacommentary on comics — if you read my Books Read posts, you know I love superheroes — but just to make my world different. So no glorious gatherings of heroes like this one below from DC’s All-Star Squadron (art by Arvell Jones).My original concept for this book was to have the people with powers working behind the scenes, but then I wondered, why would they do that? Why not flaunt it if you’ve got it? And then I started to think about how the world might change …
The first “para-normal” individuals (paranormal wouldn’t become a noun for several decades) appeared at the start of the last century. “Ubermensch” Wilhelm Fischer. Randall Holcroft, the Deathless Duke. The initial assumption was that this was the next step up in evolution — the Caucasian male, the summit of human existence, was becoming something greater. More white men with superstrength or similar physical powers seemed to confirm it.
That theory collapsed in the Great War. Johnny Billings of the Harlem Hellfighters proved as strong as any paranormal white guy. Sister Mathilde, the “Iron Nun,” began walking into No Man’s Land and back with the wounded, protected from attack by an impenetrable force field. She was the first woman with paranormal ability and the first known paranormal who wasn’t simply physically enhanced. Only a few more followed, mostly claiming religion or magic as the source of their power.
Obviously if women and blacks could have powers, the theory was bollixed. In the coming years people speculated about the cause without succcess: was it possible all superhumans were gifted by God? Or Satan? Or both — beliefs that black paranormals were demons fit in very nicely with America’s history of lynching and segregation. But there’s never been a general hostility toward paranormals comparable to mutant-hating in the Marvel Universe.
At this point I haven’t thought of any radical changes to history prior to WW II, though that may change. WW II however came out very differently. Josef Mengele became the first person to successfully induce paranormal powers in himself (a lot of people tried; it didn’t go well) and the first to acquire mental powers. He became a supergenius whose Ubermenschen super-warriors and Second Horseman Virus enabled Germany to crush all opposition between the Russian front — protected by Baba Yaga — and the English Channel. After assassins took out the royal family and Winston Churchill, it looked like Hitler would take England too.
Fortunately Arthur returned to defend his kingdom, along with Merlin. Merlin’s magic stopped the invasion cold, but Arthur declared himself isolationist — no involvement in the war as long as Hitler stayed on the continent. That meant the US couldn’t base troops in England which made taking the war to Germany more difficult. Plus Germany did not declare war on us after Pearl Harbor, so the U.S. war was entirely against Japan.
After the war, things changed further. Instead of spreading communism, the Soviet Union focused on protecting itself so there was no Cold War, no Korean War, no Vietnam War. I haven’t worked out all the ways that changes things yet, but suffice to say the list of presidents will be very different. The current president is someone we’ve never heard of.
Other changes followed. Silicon Valley seceded in 1980; as they don’t share their tech, computers in the rest of the US haven’t advanced any further than what was available around that time. No cell phones, for instance; VHS tapes but no DVDs or streaming.
The heroic alien Stardians arrived in Dallas in the 1980s along with the evil adversaries, the Unhumans.
Wyoming was the victim of a white supremacist nuclear bombing incident near the end of the same decade.
The rest of the world has had its share of upheavals. Kukulcan returned to rule Central America in the 1950s, overthrowing the many American backed dictatorships in the region. Blacks in what was once Rhodesia discovered their ancestor’s lost psionic science in the 1960s, overthrow the white supremacist governments of Rhodesia and South Africa and formed New Zimbabwe.
In Iran, Zohak, the evil tyrant of the Persian Shah Nameh, returned and seized control of his former kingdom. His armies of the Corrupted swept forth in the late 1960s, forcing the Arab states and Israel to form an alliance against him. The alliance held; while Israelis and Arabs have never become fond of each other, Zohak’s threat has replaced most of the conflicts in our timeline.
Where do all these powers come from? Are supposed magicians just super-powered, or are paranormal powers just a form of magic? I’ll discuss some of the in-world theories in a later post.
#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders; comics cover is uncredited.