Recently, Entertainment Weekly ran an piece on “The 50 Most Powerful Superheroes.” Not limited to actual power(s), this article used criteria such as “mythology,” “modern relevance,” and “bankability,” in addition to sheer strength. Each item was worth 10 points, with the exception of “cultural impact,” which was worth 20. A perfect score was 100.

In the main, I had no argument with their choices; after all, there were 50 heroes to choose from, and all of these studies are as subjective as they are non-scientific. But right up front, I have to take issue with their choices. You see, before I started the list, I thought: “Well, obviously Superman is number one.” Wrong. Superman was number four. Number one was Wonder Woman.

Now I have never been a Wonder Woman fan, but I understand her standing in the pantheon. I also understand that at this particular moment in history, she is leading the DC charge. (Forget Superman and the guy with the mask; they’re blown until DC figures out how to make a Marvel movie.) But

Wonder Woman is not Superman. She is not as powerful (10 points), doesn’t have the nemesis (10 points), the mythology or the cultural impact. She does have the edge in cultural relevance, but bankability? She has had one TV series which lasted longer than it should have. She has a movie coming out, and it may be a huge hit, but it hasn’t come out yet. Superman has had four TV series (counting Superboy), and seven movies. Like it or not, Superman is the reason there’s a DC movie universe today (or a Marvel movie universe, for that matter).

They picked Wonder Woman because she’s the trendy choice. She has a long way to go before she reaches the international and historical plateau that Superman occupies. DC is choosing to lower the bar that she must hurdle (not her fault), but she still has to hurdle it.

I’ll give her credit, though. She’s off to a running start.

Dangerously Animated

It’s funny how deep a conversation you can have about the ostensibly shallowest of subjects. Case in point: “Cartoons: Generic Fantasy or Magical Realism?”

Now, of course the conversation didn’t start that way, and nobody was titling it, but that’s what it turned out to be. I argued that “Rocky and Bullwinkle” were magical realism, because, well, talking animals. I later changed it to science fantasy, because there were also aliens. But that’s the point–how deep can you get?

It was argued to me that R&B were only generic fantasy because the only fantasy element was talking animals, but Bugs Bunny, now he’s magical realism. That could be because of his quick-change abilities; not even a rabbit is that fast, and where does he keep all this stuff? (Maybe a pocket universe, but then you get back to science fantasy.)

Now, when you get into Bugs, you really get metaphysical, because of Elmer Fudd. Fudd spends all of his time trying to hunt down a rabbit that he can talk to and who talks back. A rabbit who is clearly sentient. (Daffy? Maybe a little wiggle room there.) When you’re hunting down sentient creatures, that’s not called “hunting” anymore–it’s called attempted murder. Elmer is the Sideshow Bob to Bugs’s Bart. The guy should be in prison.

But of course it’s all in fun, and Bugs makes Elmer look the fool every time. (Nor does Daffy seem to suffer unduly from his various mishaps.) And maybe that’s the difference between “fantasy” and “magical realism,” because there are no consequences, and no harm lasts. There is no “realism,” even magical, in these cartoons.

Except of course in “The Simpsons.” Totally real.

A Shaggy Story

The second in our series of true biographies of famous “monsters,” showing how they have been misinterpreted and misunderstood throughout the years.
Harry Wolf (yeah, I know, why do you think they changed it for the movie?) was born to an East Coast middle-class suburban family in the early 20th century. When he was 18 months old, the family went for a vacation in the Adirondacks, and as will happen, they left him there, with nothing more than–no, not a blanket, not a compass, not even a Very pistol–a tattered copy of Tarzan of the Apes.
Young Harry was quickly adopted by a family of wolves (who were also, as it happens, on vacation). He went home with them and grew up quickly in the Canadian woods. Although completely untouched (some would say unspoiled) by a conventional education, he taught himself to read through constant study of his only book. (Which, if you’ve read Tarzan, is hilariously funny.)
Of course, Tarzan is a primer for surviving in the wild, and it kept Harry alive–until winter arrived. Canada is not the same as Equatorial Africa. It gets cold there; a loincloth made out of zebra skin isn’t going to cut it (although points for finding a zebra in Canada). Harry quickly learned he had to suit up or chill out–permanently.
He tried imitating Tarzan and using available materials, covering himself with pine needles glued on with pine sap. This had the twin disadvantages of (1) being itchy, and (2) the wolves laughed at him. After a brief stint as mascot for the Stanford University Cardinal, he looked for another solution.
“Harry,” the wolves said. “Harry, Harry, Harry.” After first he simply assumed they were being laconic, as wolves are, as well as condescending, but then he realized he was misunderstanding their accent: They were saying “hairy.” As in, hairy like his brothers. Harry gathered up all the shed wolf hair he could find, glued that to his body with pine sap, and soon was as cozy as could be. (It still itched, but it was better than wool.)
About this time, Harry (being a slow reader) finally reached the part of his book where the hero meets other humans. Harry followed suit…with predictable results. The Legend of the Wolfman was born.
Harry still goes into town on occasion, but only at night, and then only during the full moon, because otherwise it’s just too dark to see. He has never attacked anyone, but he did break into a used bookstore once and steal their entire collection of vintage Tarzan novels. He’s selling them on Ebay in hopes of booking passage to Africa where he can meet his hero–and finally get out of the damned wolf-hair suit. It still itches.
In honor of the season, I have decided to dispel some of the more prevailing unfortunate myths by publishing short biographies of select famous persons whose reputations have suffered unjustly over the years. First up, my personal favorite…
Monty Frankenstein (no middle initial; full name Montrose) was born in 1816 in Bavaria. Contrary to popular belief, he was not seven feet tall; he was barely two feet high. Nor was he animated by lightning: a small electrical charge was sufficient to re-start his tiny heart.
Like all young boys, Monty grew in spurts. Unlike most young boys, however, his spurts occurred every October 31 (his birthday) and he grew twelve inches taller each time. (Sometimes more, sometimes a little less, depending on the parts available.)
Because of his sturdy build, insensitivity to pain or fatigue, and patient nature, Monty was often the butt of the other boys’ jokes. In the first grade, they used his flat skull as a TV tray table; as he grew, he was pressed into service as a bench. It was during one of these latter pranks that matters began to take a less playful turn. Monty was playing couch to several of the boys, and some girls happening by laughed at the sight. Monty was used to people laughing at his antics, but this time the girls’ gaiety provoked an unfamiliar reaction. Monty reared up suddenly, spilling the other boys like bowling pins, and cried out in frustration. The boys were hurt, the girls were frightened, and Monty ran home so his father could explain the effects of a 14-year-old boy’s glands on a (now) seven-foot golem.
Middle school being what it is, when Monty returned he was promptly suspended, and the children began calling him “Montrose the Monster,” which adults promptly picked up and changed to “Frankenstein’s Monster,” because they needed to pretend they were mad at Dr. Frankenstein instead of his little boy, which would have been “childish and bullying.”
Needless to say, this made Monty quite sad. He tried to release his tensions by playing rugby, but that ended after one never-to-be-forgotten match. Lacking any other options, he ran away to join the circus. After he was gone, the townspeople, in an attempt to whitewash their own crimes, made some very serious (and false) anonymous charges against him on Facebook, resulting in summary dismissal from the circus.
In the natural order of things, Monty found himself in Hollywood, where he managed to snag a few parts in music videos until he found his big break as a film star. The public couldn’t get enough of him, and Monty was soon an A-lister living in Malibu with a former Miss Transylvania. In the years that followed, Monty discovered two things: merchandising and royalties. Over the years, various entrepreneurs have sought to exploit his image, only to find that Monty, although semi-retired, is still well able to enforce his own copyrights and trademarks in the same way he played rugby. After all, “When you’re seven feet tall and weigh four hundred pounds, who needs lawyers?”

It’s often noted that “there is nothing new under the sun,” which does not stop anyone from trying. Example: Noted SF gadfly Vox Day has announced an new rival to Wikipedia, called Infogalactic, “ an Internet-based, free-content encyclopedia project that is a dynamic fork of Wikipedia and improves upon the online encyclopedia’s model of openly editable content. Infogalactic’s pages … and are categorized in a variety of ways, including Relativity, Notability, and Reliability to allow the user to prioritize his personalized perspective.” In other words, if crowdsourcing your facts wasn’t good enough, now you can crowdsource your facts to suit you. It’s like watching Fox News or MSNBC if they gave up trying to look objective.

There are, of course, a few issues with this: The most obvious is that you’re going from living in a bubble to living inside an Internet force field. (If you weren’t living in a bubble already, this wouldn’t interest you.) I’m not sure what good it is to have the most extensive information tool ever invented if you’re going to limit it to stuff you already think you know.

But my problem with this is different; it’s really a matter of semantics. This is not a “free-content encyclopedia.” Nor is it some new kind of information provider–it is no kind of information provider at all. No, this is something very different, and (far from being groundbreaking) it is very old. The name of this well-used trope is…


Mr. Day is crowd-sourcing what may be the world’s largest novel. Or, I guess, an anthology. Perhaps it is a “three-volume novel of more than usually revolting sentimentality.” Regardless, when you create a world to your own taste, and you invite other people to come in to see if they like the milieu you have created, that’s called “fiction.” And given that it will probably include alternate history, it is not out of line to call it “science fiction.”

I wonder, will it be eligible for a Hugo next year?




Happy to announce that my (very) short story, “Jolly Crossing,”  will appear in the “Christmas in Crisis” issue of Splickety Prime magazine.

Have you ever wondered how George Washington got all those men across the Delaware River in the middle of the night in the middle of winter? I mean, who even came up with such a crazy idea?

You might be surprised…

Publication details to follow.



A History Lesson

As everybody who is not living at the bottom of the sea knows, we have an election in about a month.* And along with most of my fellow citizens, I plan to vote.

Wait–let me rephrase. Along with many of my fellow citizens, I plan to vote. Whether “most” will is a matter of speculation. If you do plan to vote, you can skip this post. But for any of you out there who plan not to vote, I have a story to tell you.

When I was a child, back in the Middle Ages, we of the nerdish persuasion eagerly awaited the new fall line-up of TV shows, because every year there was one (sometimes a couple) that qualified as SF or fantasy. Usually it stunk, but it was what we had, so we watched. Then, in 1966, something changed. We didn’t know it then…in fact, it didn’t actually change for some years, but the seed was planted. In 1966, Star Trek premiered.

Star Trek was one of the first intelligent SF shows on TV, along with The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. It lasted two years, but was not on the network’s schedule for a third season. Fans got into an uproar, there was a famous letter-writing campaign, and a third season was granted. Then Star Trek went away.

For nearly ten years, we were back in that pre-Trek desert. SF was once more a ghetto. Then magic struck, this time in the form of Star Wars. Suddenly SF wasn’t so geeky; millions enjoyed it who weren’t SF fans. In the years since, our field has grown to the point where now there is an entire channel devoted to SF and fantasy (and wrestling, which really fits better than you’d think). But none of this would have happened without Star Wars, and Star Wars would not have happened without Star Trek.

So what does this have to do with the election? Just this. Nerdism is so pervasive that you could probably find more people who can tell you why Captain America should be allowed to lecture the NYPD on crowd safety than can tell you what Mike Pence said about the border fence a few nights ago. Nerds are no longer in a ghetto. Everyone is now a nerd. We’ve won.

And how did we win? By a small group of like-minded individuals demonstrating for what they wanted. Although it appeared at first they only won a small, limited victory, they ended up taking over the world. Not just the comic book world, or the Star Trek world, but the real world. Where things cost real money and the movies create real jobs.

Now how long do you think it would take to affect change if you started in the real world? If fantasy can affect reality, how would real votes affect reality? Your vote doesn’t count? It isn’t enough? If Star Trek fans had thought that, we wouldn’t have Star Wars or the Marvel Cinematic Universe–both of which are worth billions.

Think your vote won’t matter? Small actions have big consequences. I won’t say, “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” But I will say, “If you don’t vote, you can’t help make your dreams come true.”

*Those people at the bottom of the sea are, I will admit, probably happier than we are.