Category Archives: Reading

Gods and demigods in comics, plus a book on religion

RAGNAROK: Last God Standing by Walt Simonson is set in the aftermath of Ragnarok, which contrary to legend destroyed the gods of Asgard and their allies but did not wipe out the forces of evil. When an elven assassin attempts to eliminate one dead god once and for all, she only wakes him up; picking up his hammer, Thor sets out to see what’s happened to Asgard and take revenge on those responsible. Not as fun as Simonson’s classic run on Marvel’s Thor, but a good, novel take on the Norse myths.

I’d heard a lot of good things about ARCHER AND ARMSTRONG (by Fred van Lente and Clayton Henry) and the first TPB, The Michelangelo Code, lives up to the press clippings. Obadiah Archer is a devoutly dedicated assassin trained by his parents’ right-wing Christian cult to serve God by destroying an ancient, immortal hero for his crimes and recovering the mysterious McGuffin he hid. Armstrong is the boozing, party animal who knows Armstrong’s parents are up to no good and that it’s better if nobody recovers the artifact. Can two unlikely good guys find common ground? Yes, that kind of straight man/wild man team up is familiar, but it’s really fun here, as are the constant jokes about Armstrong’s immortal experiences. I look forward to getting V2.

HEIRS TO FORGOTTEN KINGDOMS: Journeys Into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East by British diplomat Gerard Russell looks at the lifestyle, traditions and religious beliefs of Copts, Zoroastrians, Alewites, Mandaeans, Yazdis, Druze, Samaritans and other fringe faiths that after years of survival are struggling not only with Islamic extremism (a lot of the issues the minorities are dealing with reminded me of Invisible Countries’ discussion of how ethnostates are made) but the loss of countless members of the faith to immigration (writing in 2014, Russell’s tentative optimism about the progress some of them were making in the U.S. looks depressingly dated now). On top of which some of them eschew written texts or keep the Great Truth hidden from all but initiates, making it even harder to preserve the faith. The book mixes historical detail with Russell’s personal encounters with believers and doesn’t always get the balance right (at times it’s pure travelog) but overall interesting.

#SFWApro. Cover by Mico Suayan, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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A quick post of cover art

No work this week because I’ve been on vacation (details to follow in a later post). So only one post today, and it’s going to be cover art.

Now there’s a grabber of a cover!

Here’s another attention-getting thriller cover.Next, a joint image of Bob Pepper’s covers for the Gormenghast trilogy (combined image courtesy of The Literary Chick)Funny how many SF covers of the 1950s and 1960s had women in what look like chorus-girl outfits.

And of course, a Powers cover.To wrap up, here’s a Bob Brown cover from the comics. Like Mongo said, we’re just pawns in the game of life.#SFWApro. Cover art is uncredited if I didn’t give the name. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Not your typical Doc Savage: The Terrible Stork, King Joe Cay and The Wee Ones

While I’m used to Lester Dent writing Doc as an average guy in his 1940s adventures, and even making him fallible, THE TERRIBLE STORK just takes it too far.

It starts well: Doc, Monk and Ham slip into an auction room to get some relief from the heat and witness an insane bidding war over a cheap metal figure of a stork. One of the losers then resorts to gun play. Doc winds up in possession of the stork which seems to be completely ordinary, except for the legion of people trying to get hold of it. It turns out there’s a guy who’s been hiding gold and jewels belonging to members of the German government, so their wealth will be safe if Germany loses. Now the guy is dead, but the stork holds the key to the location of the goodies.

It’s a decent set-up but the good guys have been hit with the idiot stick. Doc opens a container of tear gas to confirm its contents, then suddenly realizes it might have been poison gas! Oops. Later he spots a sign someone has hidden a clue, but just ignores it. When assigns Ham to research one of the players and Ham seems to find the assignment baffling. Monk sounds like a dumb mook when he talks.

KING JOE CAY follows The Freckled Shark and The Lost Giant in having Doc undercover as a rogue and troublemaker for much of the book. Unlike them, Doc’s playing a lone hand, with his five friends all absent (a first for the series).

We open with tough guy “Clark” on a train with some crooks, trying to finagle a McGuffin from an attractive woman named Trudy. Doc succeeds in stealing her purse but can’t find the goods, so he, then strikes up a flirtation with Trudy. She, however, is not fooled (though she doesn’t know who he really is) and gets him busted by the cops when they get off in Florida. He chases her while crooks Tom Ittle and Brigham Pope chase them both. Doc at first thinks of Pope as nothing but a cheesy actor up to some dirty work, then notices how he terrifies everyone involved. He realizes it’s not that Pope’s an actor by profession, it’s that he’s acting, playing a man much less dangerous than he really is.

Doc got involved in all this at the request of Charlotte D’Alaza, a grasping millionairess he met years ago (Chronology of Bronze speculates she could have been involved with Clark Savage Sr.). However she refuses to tell him the McGuffin everyone’s after. For good reason. It turns out the secret is several documents concerning the disposal of Jewish property taken by the Nazis; Fleish, the man who took control of the assets, sold it off to Charlotte for pennies on the dollar. If her involvement in that sort of scheme is exposed, Congress will destroy her plan to build an airline monopoly.

This is another Ordinary Doc Savage story, but more entertaining, and Charlotte’s a great supporting character.d

THE WEE ONES does a good job concealing its true nature: it’s a straight mystery plot but looks like a pulp SF story. The hook is a mysterious dwarf, two feet high, running across the small town of Hammond City, terrifying the populace with savage attacks. For Doc Savage, that’s Tuesday: he’s faced similar creatures before in The Goblins and The Gold Ogre, though in this case he’s skeptical, quipping that “nothing is impossible, but many things are ridiculous.” Hammond’s residents are a lot more worried as accounts of the dwarf — identical to Lys, the missing lab assistant of John Fain, who runs an electrical company — attacking people with a knife spread through town. Men working at Fain’s company decide to stay home to protect their wives, which could interfere with the company’s war work; is this an Axis plot? Curiously the previous two books read as if the war is over (they were written at the end of 1944, but came out in the summer of 1945) but this one (from January of ’45) shows it’s ongoing.

Nope. It turns out Mrs. Fain married her hubby without divorcing her first husband (they don’t specify, but it appears to be part of a scam to get Fain’s money and assets). The truth is about to come out so they’ve been doping Fain, who already had a nervous breakdown a while back, to make him unstable. He thinks the dwarf was born from some lab experiment of his, so news that fear is shutting down the town will push him over the edge, freeing his wife to take over his affairs. To fake the dwarf attacks, they simply spread stories around town to stir things up.

If not A-list Doc Savage, it’s still a solid read. Contrary to the cover, the dog plays almost no role in the story. Trivia point: this reveals that despite his competence at everything else, Doc is a terrible cook.

#SFWApro. Covers by Modest Stein, all rights to covers remain with current holder.

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Wonder Woman lives again: the George Perez reboot

After a run of more than 20 years and 300 issues, Wonder Woman wrapped up with #329 and her marriage to Steve Trevor. Following the Legend of Wonder Woman miniseries, the Amazing Amazon started over from scratch in George Perez’s Wonder Woman #1. The first six issues were here origin arc partly written by Greg Potter, then Len Wein, but the plotting and the reboot concepts were all Perez.The first issue retells Marston’s origin of the Amazons, with some interesting additions. Rather than just magical creations of Aphrodite, they’re created to reincarnate the souls of the countless women who’ve died by the hands of men through the centuries, all preserved in Gaia’s magical womb. As in Marston, they become a force for good, get betrayed by Hercules (and fairly obviously raped), freed by the Olympian goddesses and sent to Themiscrya, where they must redeem their defeat by guarding Doom’s Doorway, a gateway into hell. It turns out that alone among the Amazons, Hippolyta originally died while in childbirth. She’s able to bring her daughter to life in a clay figure, the one and only child of the Amazons.

By the time Diana reaches adulthood, Ares is working to plunge the world into final conflict, whipping up his followers in the U.S. and USSR into a war fever. The Olympian goddesses order Hippolyta to select a champion to enter Man’s World and put a stop to this, and needless to say, it’s Diana. As she prepares to leave, Steve Trevor arrives, one of Ares’ acolytes scheming to destroy the Amazons and get rid of Trevor — an experienced combat veteran, but not a man who has any love for war — in one stroke. Thanks to Diana the plan fails; she takes Steve back to the U.S. landing in Boston (but unlike Marston, not out of love for him).

Unlike Marston’s Wonder Woman, Princess Diana is a fish out of water. She doesn’t speak English. Doesn’t understand our customs. Finds modern civilization a little intimidating. She turns for support to Julia Kapatelis, an archeologist with a specialty in ancient Greece. Together with Steve, Etta Candy and Julia, she has to stop Ares’ plans, but as he prepares to go nuclear, literally, will she be able to do it? Especially when his sons Deimos and Phobos set their creation, the monstrous Decay, loose on Boston?

I was totally blown away when I first read this (I know because I have a glowing letter in #7). Not just Perez’ art or the revision of the Amazons’ origins, but his older, more experienced Steve (“I’m not afraid of guns — I’m afraid of some of the idiots our military gives the guns to.”), his capable Etta (in the final conflict, she’s right in their fighting) and the gentle, insecure Diana. Perez doesn’t rush his story or squeeze in any excess fight scenes; it’s not until #4 that Diana goes mano-a-mano with anyone. It felt a little slower-paced on rereading, which is partly because I know what’s coming; Ares’ plans don’t provide as much suspense as first go-round.

And of course, the art is gorgeous. Ares has never looked more formidable.

Overall, though, it’s a solid launch for Diana’s rebooted series. There are two particular changes that I think worth discussing.

First, that the Amazons remain at an ancient Greek level of science and technology, in contrast to the relatively high-tech Marston Amazons. Marston’s Paradise Island had guns, medical laboratories and a plane for Wonder Woman to fly.  Perez’ Amazons have swords and spears (the gun used for Diana’s “bullets and bracelets challenge has a backstory Perez develops later) and healing poultices.

It’s not that this is bad in itself, but I do wonder about the Amazons staying on that island for more than two millennia and never evolving or changing at all. Greek culture, after all, valued science and the intellectual life (though not for women — Amazons being scholars and not just warriors is an idea I might play with some time) so why shouldn’t the Amazons have developed an advanced science of their own? Maybe a Grecian steampunk so it fits the aesthetic?

The second change is that in ruling out Steve as a lover for Diana, Perez never came up with an alternative. Wonder Woman, IIRC, didn’t get a date until the 21st century gave her a brief flirtation with the superhero Nemesis, then with Superman. Most recently she’s back with Steve (it’s also been established she had lovers on Themiscrya).

I wouldn’t want Diana defined by her love life. I’m pleased she didn’t leave Paradise Island out of love for Steve (Robert Kanigher’s Silver Age run also took Steve out of the decision). But just ignoring that side of her for years (as opposed to, say, declaring she’s asex or that her duties preclude it) feels odd in hindsight.

I’m not sure when the right pausing point is to do another Perez review. I guess you’ll find out when I do.

#SFWApro. Covers by Perez, all rights remain with current holders.

 

 

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Two tough guys and a dreamer: books

THE XYY MAN by Kenneth Royce gets its name from a now-discredited theory that having two Y chromosomes makes men more reckless, rebellious and dangerous — as is the case with Bill “Spider” Scott, a professional cat burglar newly out of prison, struggling to stay straight and finding it difficult. Salvation comes when a high placed British official hires Spider to steal a McGuffin from the Chinese embassy in London — but after completing the job, it looks like his new employer’s going to double-cross him. Spider goes on the run but the Chinese, the CIA and the KGB all want what he now has …

The XYY aspect is just a gimmick; Spider doesn’t come across any wilder or more incorrigible than most career-criminal protagonists (he could easily be Al Mundy, the thief-turned-spy from TV’s It Takes a Thief). That said, he’s a good protagonist, plausibly tough but no superhuman. The story itself was entertaining, so I may pick up more in the series eventually.

GASLIT INSURRECTION: The Clockworks of War Book I by Jason Gilbert (who’s a friend of mine, but my review is honest) has a setting I love: it’s alt.1921 in a world where the Civil War lasted twenty years (General Sherman took a bullet in the head before he could start burning the South), ending when a slave uprising destabilized the Confederacy. However the moneyed interests that had taken over the Union covertly now covertly took over the South, crushing the revolt and keeping the CSA free as a puppet state.

Protagonist Kane is a hardboiled PI/magus investigating a series of killings in which strippers are drained of blood. Worse, the “oligarchy” that runs the country doesn’t want him sticking his nose in. And their interest might threaten Tabby, the amiably crazy but attractive woman whom Kane assures everyone he has no romantic interest in …

Urban fantasy, even in an alt.history setting, isn’t my cup of tea. But with that reservation, this was fun. The language was anachronistic in spots (“relationship” isn’t a word anyone was using for love affairs back then) but not so bad I couldn’t live with it.

I have never been a huge fan of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman or Gaiman’s writing in general (I find him pretentious a lot of the time) but reading SANDMAN: Preludes and Nocturnes by Gaiman and multiple illustrators reminds me just how much this series impressed me when it started. In the 1920s an occult group tries to capture Death but instead gets her brother, Dream. Years later he breaks free and begins hunting for his lost talismans of power, taking him to Hell, London and into battle with the supervillain Dr. Destiny. Overall it’s impressive work, though one issue in which Destiny hitches a ride and gets into a pseudo-deep conversation, fell flat for me (partly that’s because it’s something that’s been done to death a lot since).

SUBURBAN GLAMOUR by Jamie McKelvie fell really, really flat. The story of a teenage suburban girl discovering she’s actually an adopted faerie princess just hits too many extremely stock tropes, both for urban fantasy and for fictional teenage life; it does go in a different direction than I expected, but not enough to be worth reading.

#SFWApro. All rights to cover image remain with current holder.

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I went back in the house and came out again: the Vertigo House of Mystery

Talking about DC’s House of Mystery is complicated because there have been so many versions. It started as a horror anthology —

Then became a superhero book.

Then got its most famous incarnation, an anthology book hosted by the House’s caretaker, Cain (later established as an avatar of the Cain).

The version I’m dealing with today is the Vertigo series from 2008-11 (written by Lilah Sturges and multiple others) which combined Cain, an anthology element and a main story arc. In the first issue, a woman named Fig Keele — architect, former kid detective — stumbles into the House of Mystery.

Some people come in, drink at the bar (the House now has a bar-room) and leave. Fig is one of those who can’t leave, try as she might. She’s stuck there along with sorcerers, a pirate, handsome bartender Harry and a Byronic poet (no Cain), working in the bar and hunting for an escape. As the price of a drink is a story, each issue includes one, keeping the anthology aspect going alongside the main plot. Meanwhile, various mysterious groups and people are trying to figure out where in the multiverse the House is currently located.

To further complicate things, Fig has a much stranger past than she lets on, possibly tied to the House. Her father shows up with an agenda of his own. Cain eventually finds the House and isn’t pleased with the renovations.

This period is the one I think of when I think of the series and it’s the part of the run I liked best (though the stories told at the bar often left me unimpressed). Later on? Not so much. There’s a long stretch where the House winds up located in a Goblin market, with the cast embroiled in goblin politics and local wars. The setting didn’t interest me as much. Neither did the annoying Lotus Blossom, a new character who plays a large role in the final arc. I found her just insufferable.

And rereading, I found the background mythology, involving entities known as the Conception and Fig’s own secret gifts, less than inspiring (this may reflect that this time I knew it didn’t really pay off). I honest-to-god have no idea how it all fits together or makes sense or if it does. Which wouldn’t have mattered if they’d kept up the quirkiness of the early issues, but I don’t think they did.

Fig too became more annoying on rereading. She’s got cause for being pissed off, but at times she’d get so mopey and whiny I didn’t have sympathy for her.

All of which makes the series sound much worse than it I think it is, the unfortunate consequence of listing fault after fault. Certainly I enjoyed it on first run, despite the flaws — I don’t know that “it wasn’t as much fun to reread” is really a fatal flaw.

But it’s all out in TPB if you want to find out for yourself.

#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by J. Winslow Mortimer, Jim Mooney, Nick Cardy and Sam Weber, all rights remain with current holders. Bonus cover by Cardy below, because he’s awesome (rights remain with current holder).

 

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Undead sexist cliches: “Women never do anything for political reasons”

If I remember correctly, I ran across that phrase in Marjorie Rosen’s Popcorn Venus. Rosen’s point (or whoever, if I’m misremembering) was that in movies, men fight for ideal (or power), women fight for men, or for ideals if men share them.

In Adventures of Robin Hood, for example, Errol Flynn’s Robin opens Maid Marian’s (Olivia de Haviland) eyes to the injustice King John and Guy of Gisborne are wreaking on the Saxons. She’s inspired, but it’s in large part by her love for Robin. In Casablanca, Victor Lazlo’s the idealist, Rick’s an idealist who needs to regain his ideals, Ilsa takes her cue from the men. She goes off to support Victor’s fight against the Axis because Rick told her it was the right thing to do.

In more recent times we have the Helen Slater Supergirl film, wherein her clash with Faye Dunaway comes off less about Faye Dunaway’s plans for world conquest and more about which of them gets to cuddle with hunky Hart Bochner. Or Paycheck, in which Ben Affleck is out to stop Aaron Eckhart’s evil plans, Uma Thurman is out to love Affleck. She’s willing to fight, but only because she’s supporting her man.

Heather Greene’s Bell, Book and Camera makes the same point about witches. Male film witches are out for power (e.g., Julian Sands in Warlock); female witches’ endgame is love (Bell, Book and Candle or I Married a Witch for example).

And as writer Shannon Thompson says, female villains are often defined by wanting the same guy as the protagonist: “When girls get antagonistic roles at all, it is usually as the dreaded other woman. She’s the soulless, vicious, popular harpy you love to hate, prepackaged in the designer clothes you’ve always wanted (but you’d never admit it), and she is on her way to steal your man.”  Of course, a lot of villains are out to get the girl, but it’s never just about the girl. Conrad Veidt in Thief of Baghdad is in love with the same princess as the hero, but he’s about getting power, too. Ditto Guy of Gisborne in the Flynn Robin Hood.

Or consider DC in the Silver Age, when Supergirl and Wonder Woman got saddles with lots of romance-comics tropes in the hopes of bringing in more female readers. Sure, Supergirl saves the world but what good is that if you don’t have a date?

I do think things have improved since Popcorn Venus came out 50 years or so ago. We have more women soldiers, more women PIs and cops, more female superheroes, and I see more of them whose motives do not revolve around the man in their lives, if there even is one. Even back in the 1940s, we had Wonder Woman, and C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry. The CW’s Supergirl fights for truth, justice and the American way, not for a boyfriend, even though romance plays a role in the series.

This is a good thing.

#SFWApro. Supergirl cover by Bob Oksner, rights to all images remain with current holders.

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From the Stone Age to mystic Russia to the future: books and graphic novels

PALEOFANTASY: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet and How We Live by Marlene Zuk looks at the widespread assumption that we haven’t evolved since the Stone Age, which I’ve of course encountered in reading about how modern gender differences are imposed on us by our caveman ancestors. Zuk’s book reminds me the theory takes in a great deal more.

By paleo-logic, we’ll be happiest and healthiest if we live like our ancestors: eat Stone Age food, exercise the same way (would they have been runners or merely walkers and weight lifters?), create environments compatible with the way we’re hardwired and, of course, submit to our genetically ordained gender roles. As Zuk shows in detail, however, there’s no reason for seizing on the Paleolithic era as our genetic turning point: some of our genes go back way, way earlier, and yes, as evolutionary psychologist David Butler has written, we haven’t stopped evolving. Our ability to digest dairy as adults (not a universal human trait, of course) may be as little as 7,000 years old. Nor, Zuk adds, does it look like modern science is really protecting us from evolution (she points out this is a very First World middle and upper-class view of survival). Very good.

KOSCHEI THE DEATHLESS by Mike Mignola and Ben Stenbeck is one of the best Hellboy-verse stories I’ve read in a while. The backstory of Koshchei, who battled Hellboy in Darkness Calls,  has a genuine folklore feel to it: the magic is frequently nonlinear and illogical (to protect his magic from Baba Yaga, Koshchei spits it up into a rag, then feeds the rag to a horse. Which then explodes) but it feels right — creepy, eerie and not at all like science. A grim story (when Koshchei talks of going down a dark path, Hellboy points out he’d already been on one) but well worth reading (and added, of course, to my Chronology).

As I mentioned earlier this week, James H. Schmitz’s THE WITCHES OF KARRES by James H. Schmitz is a delightful romp. Protagonist Pausert frees three underage girls from slavery only to discover Maleen, Goth and the Leewit are all powerful psis. Accompanied by Goth (he drops the other girls back on Karres) he attempts to start a new life as a trader, but everyone from an alien computer to scheming governments to a space pirate wants to pry the secrets of Karres’ space-warp drive from his mind. Given everything at the end is in place for more adventures, I’m surprised Schmitz never did a sequel, though other hands have tackled the job.

SUPERGIRL: Girl of No Tomorrow by Steve Orlando an various artists continues Orlando’s uninspired run on the Maid of Might’s series. Here the future villain the Emerald Empress tries to destroy Supergirl by recreating the Silver Age villain team the Fatal Five (it’s such a random collection of villains Orlando might have drawn them out of a hat); complicating the battle is that Supergirl’s powers have been boosted to the point she’s as much a threat to Capital City as the bad guys. The only bright spot was the Annual, in which Supergirl meets her cousin, plus the Superman of China plus a New 52 version of Wonder Woman’s former mentor I Ching (but the name doesn’t work any better now). It was fun, but can’t redeem the whole thing (like turning Cat Grant into a her0-hating J. Jonah Jameson knockoff)

The first volume of REDLANDS by Jordie Bellaire and Vanesa Del Rey fell flat for me. Set in a Florida town run by witches, it’s more a grim dark crime thriller as even the witches’ influences doesn’t make the locals any less misogynist. Sexist enough that I got tired of reading about it. I also find it annoying that the creators tie this in to Salem (as Heather Greene says, Salem is a standard marker for validating witch stories) — there were no witches at Salem, just 19 innocent women and one man hung for witchcraft they didn’t commit.

#SFWApro. Covers by Mike Mignola (t) and Kurt Miller, all rights to them and the poster image remain with current holders.

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Sherlock Holmes: “The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning.”

Once again it’s time for seeing how a Sherlock Holmes quote applies to writing. With this line from Sign of Four I think Holmes is letting his ego get in the way.

The quote was his review of Watson’s first published account of Holmes’ exploits, A Study in Scarlet. Holmes grumbles the story should have been little more than a true-crime monograph, showcasing Holmes’ deductive genius. Instead Watson drags in all those dramatic, emotional details to make an entertaining yarn, thereby muddying the sublimity of Holmes’ intellect.

Though supremely egotistical, Holmes was, of course, as brilliant as he thinks he is. But he’s dead wrong. It’s the emotional stuff in Watson’s stories that makes them stand out: his banter with Holmes, Holmes’ own arrogance, quirkiness and intense emotional drive, the plight of the clients at finding themselves inexplicably imperiled. The logical stuff is secondary. Jacques Futrelle’s Augustus Van Dusen, AKA “The Thinking Machine” was a titan of logic, but that’s all he is; he’s devoid of any of Holmes’ passion or personality. Futrelle’s mysteries are fun to read, but they don’t stick with me the way Doyles’ do. Neither do the excellent Dr. Thorndyke mysteries of R. Austin Freeman or the mediocre Martin Hewitt mysteries by Arthur Morrison (Hewitt and his sidekick are exceptionally bland).

That’s not to say that clear reasoning isn’t important. To write the best stories we can, we have to apply reasoning to the plot, the characters and the editing. Even if people’s reactions are irrational, they have to make sense. The ordinary character who confronts supernatural horror or tries to solve a mystery needs a very good reason for sticking their neck out. Nobody should do something stupid just because the plot needs it; I’ve seen more than one story where a careful, calculating villain becomes inept and ineffective when they have to kill the hero. Or the romance has no motivation beyond “they’re the protagonists, they should get together.”

But the emotional quality of the story probably hooks readers more than story logic. If we care about the characters, that’s a plus. Or if we don’t but the story makes us feel strongly anyway: Lovecraft’s protagonists aren’t particularly engaging, but his best work conveys a definite feeling of horror.

As for Holmes, it’s possible that underneath his indignant dismissal, he was happier with Watson’s work than he admits. Holmes usually let the detective on the case take credit in the papers; Watson’s stories must have been excellent publicity for Holmes’ business in the early years. Holmes periodically recommended one story or another as suitable for Watson to adapt. The stories undoubtedly grew Holmes’ legend (they had to be at least as popular in-story as in reality) and his ego could hardly have objected to that.

#SFWApro. All rights to cover image remain with current holder.

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Thank heaven for little girls? I don’t know ..

Honest to god, it has been a long time since I thought of thirteen year olds as romantic figures. Not since maybe, I was fifteen? Which made rereading James H. Schmitz’s The Witches of Karres a little odd.

Not that there’s any statutory rape or inappropriate thoughts about the relationship between the book’s adult hero, Captain Pausert, and his psionic “witch” sidekick, Goth, who’s thirteen at most. Or even any romance on Pausert’s side. But early on, Goth informs him that they’re going to get married when she’s of age (sixteen for the people of Karres) and it’s quite obvious yes, that will happen eventually. And before that, when Goth’s fourteen-year-old sister Maleen says she’ll marry Pausert (she’s not sincere), Pausert gives this serious thought (Maleen’s a lot prettier than Goth).

As a general rule, I’m not much bothered by age differences in real life and not necessarily in fiction. Once you get into adult/teen stuff, it gets a little … well, not so much squicky as just unconvincing. Pausert’s at least in his early twenties’ marrying a sixteen-year-old does not seem like the best option. It wouldn’t have struck me as odd when I first read it because I’d have been around thirteen, and so a thirteen-year-old romantic interest wouldn’t have seemed strange (that it would be weird for an older male protagonist didn’t concern me). Now, though, that age gap leaps out at me when I see it. And that a lot of creators apparently do think it’s sexy or romantic.

For example, George Lucas thought Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark could have been 11 or 12 when Indie, in his twenties, deflowered her. A plotline in Steve Englehart’s run on Green Lantern involved the teenage alien Arisia using the power ring to mature herself physically so she’s old enough to be Hal Jordan’s girlfriend. A run of Dr. Fate in the 1980s has a ten-year-old boy magically matured and becoming involved with his stepmom (even given they turn out to be reincarnates who’ve been together in countless lifetimes). The Storm miniseries has her losing her virginity to T’Challa when she’s twelve (even given he’s only a few years older that’s way too young to portray as a romantic moment). In some of Fritz Leiber’s later stories of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser his heroes’ interest in nubile young girls has a very dirty old man vibe to it. Schmitz comes off pretty good by contrast; like I said, Pausert isn’t into Goth and writes her interest off as a teenage crush. But it still struck me as odd (even given we’re little more than a century from when the age of consent was 10).

I’m less bothered by older teen/adult romance (not so much the legal issues of age of consent as whether it feels like the kid’s old enough to be in a relationship), depending how its handled. For example if it’s a prime-time soap where everyone’s banging everyone. Or where immortals are involved; once you hit a hundred, let alone 1,000 years, why would you care about a few years either way? And I’ve read stories where yes, they made me believe the relationship was true love.

My age definitely influences my perception of this, but I’m not sure whether it makes me see more truthfully, or less.

#SFWApro. Cover by Kurt Miller, all rights remain with current holder.

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