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Not Being the Chosen One: Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth (#SFWApro)

kamandi1Jack Kirby’s Bronze Age series, Kamandi, Last Boy on Earth (cover by Kirby, all rights remain with current holder) is a good comic — heck, after Kirby’s “Fourth World” books wrapped up, this and Eternals at Marvel are the only Kirby work I thought was any good. But it’s also interesting to look at for (though I doubt intentionally) having a protagonist who’s not in any sense a Chosen One.

Kamandi was a riff on Planet of the Apes, a post-apocalypse world where homo sapiens existed as animals while the former animals ruled. Not just apes but tigers (a civilization modeled on ancient Rome), rats (running a crime ring out of sunken NYC), lions (a relatively advanced society in the Southwest) and dolphins (aquatic civilization, of course). Kamandi grew up inside “Command Bunker D” (hence his name) with his grandfather, sheltered from the world. Until a wolf raider penetrated the bunker and killed his grandfather. Now Kamandi’s out in the world, endlessly moving, looking for people like himself (it turns out there are a few), helping out where he can.

What made me frequently dissatisfied with the book as a kid was that Kamandi was often a passive participant in his own book. He’d run into trouble — giant gorilla, rat kidnappers, leopard pirates — but most of the time someone else would get him out of it, such as the lion Sultan or the human mutant Ben Boxer. Kamandi was the lead character, I wanted him to be more of the hero, and he wasn’t. Though I noticed when I reread the series a few years earlier that he does more than I thought at the time: in one issue he averts a bloody battle between tiger and gorilla forces by convincing them to resolve things with a game of chance. But generally he’s a POV character rather than a hero.

Rereading the series, though, that’s part of what I like about it. Seriously, he’s a teenage boy trapped in a world he never made (as the old Howard the Duck catchphrase put it), it’s not surprising he’s out of his depth. He’s courageous and resourceful, but it works for me that he’s only able to make small changes here and there. He’s not the Chosen One destined to remake the world and restore humanity, nor the hero who triumphs over the world through sheer awesomeness, he’s Everyboy. It’s quite refreshing (and I say that despite liking lots of heroes who change their world through sheer awesomeness).

I think this helps explain why the world often seems to real. Even as a kid, I got the impression these animal communities existed before and after meeting Kamandi: sure, meeting a talking, intelligent human cub was weird, but it wasn’t the defining moment of their existence, it was a colorful story they’d tell the family over dinner. The world didn’t revolve around him, so it had more space to be a world.

I really appreciated this after Kirby left (#36 was his last issue) and other writers took over. The strange animal cultures stopped feeling real: they existed purely to be a menace to Kamandi and didn’t feel like they had any other existence. Some of the animals started seeing Kamandi as an existential threat that might lead to humanity reclaiming the world. The final issue launched an arc that would have established Kamandi as indeed a Chosen One of some sort (the book ended first). In general, it was just not as good.

So there is something to be said for not being a Chosen One or a mighty hero, but as my younger reaction to Kamandi shows, that often works against reader expectations. Which doesn’t always generate a favorable response. Most of the Kirby run is available in reprint so pick it up sometime (if you have the money to spare, they’re hardback reprint collections and not cheap) and see what you think.

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Newsflash: America is not the white homeland (new And column)

That’s the gist of my new column, about the white nationalist conviction that the United States belongs to white men more than any other group, and that the election was a mandate endorsing them.

While I didn’t get into it in the column, it’s worth noting that no matter how much Trump’s team lies and insists this was one of the greatest electoral victories ever, Trump lost by close to three million votes. His electoral college win was sixth largest of the last eight. He’s wildly unpopular. Doesn’t make him any less president, but we should remind him and his racist, sexist supporters at every opportunity that they do not have the will of the people. They want to believe they do, or they want us to believe they do. Don’t let them.

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Seas are rocky but I’m still afloat (#SFWApro)

The big rock is continuing problems with Southern Discomfort. After running aground last week, I was able to get going again, but it’s still difficult. While I had broadly mapped out the finish (Maria and her friends attack Gwalchmai from faerie, while the cops and the FBI approach through his gate on the mortal plane), I didn’t put much detail into my outline. So now I have to answer questions about just what sort of magical protection Gwalchmai has on his fortress, and how they’re going to get past it (or not). My earlier versions of this bit are so far removed from the current set-up, I have to start completely fresh, and that’s difficult.

A minor problem is that I think I’m going to end up in the low 70,000s, which is short of what a lot of publishers will accept. I think I can fix that without too much trouble though (and without padding for length).

I got It’s Never Jam Today restarted too, but it’s still uncooperative. On the other hand, the latest draft of Oh the Places You’ll Go! looks much closer to what I want (but very far from what it needs to be).

I also looked at two older unfinished stories. Never Call Up What You Cannot Put Down is better than I remembered it, but falls apart at the end. That’s fixable, I think, but it’s also a rather stock story of encountering the magical in WW II—I’d really like to add something that will make it stand out more from the pack. And the other story, untitled, looks good as far as it goes, but I haven’t even finished a first draft yet, and I’m not sure how to do so. It’s a portal fantasy and I’ve no idea what’s on the far side of the portal, so …

I did finish tidying the index for Now and Then We Time Travel and did a little more work on Martinis Girls and Guns. I also began looking for new freelance gigs and drawing up queries, but didn’t get very far.

I also had to deal with two things I haven’t faced in a while. I had a contractor to deal with (some carpentry problems) and it was actually cool enough on Wednesday I could take the dogs for a longer walk. I will have to keep the possibility of longer walk-time in mind when I plan out next week.

To wrap up, here’s a before/after. First photo of Trixie when she was a stray in the Durham animal shelter almost two years ago, weighing a little over five pounds.

IMG_1126And here’s Trixie today. I hate thinking of what it must have been like for her as a stray, but I feel very happy to have made such a difference in her life.

trixie big eyes

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Recent reading (#SFWApro)

1434019Several weeks worth, actually … OUT OF SPACE AND TIME is the first half of a reprinted Best Of Clark Ashton Smith collection that Smith picked himself back in the 1940s. This half includes several Averoigne tales, plus Poseidonis, Zothique and several modern set (though frequently sliding into other realms). A good collection, with “A Night in Malneant” particularly effective—I don’t know if Smith intended it as a metaphor for losing one’s wife, but now that I have one to lose, it sure feels like i. A shame I don’t have Vol. 2 (all rights to cover image with current holder)

THE MERMAN’S CHILDREN by Poul Anderson reminds me a lot of The Broken Sword in it’s bleak, Scandinavian, doom-laden tone: the protagonists are half-human, half-merfolk, scattered from their home as Christianity grinds away at the world of faerie, setting them hunting for a place to call home in a world increasingly unfriendly to magic. Surprisingly, the ending is upbeat for everyone, and not implausibly so—I guess Anderson meant it when he said he couldn’t have written Broken Sword as an older writer.

It’s been a while since I read Peter Wimsey, but I’m back on track—GAUDY NIGHT by Dorothy Sayers actually focuses on Peter’s dream girl Harriet Vane, as her college asks Harriet to discreetly investigate who’s been sending poison-pen letters to the staff and targeting them with other cruel pranks (as a writer I must say that destroying someone’s corrected proofs is particularly nasty). Inevitably, she has to call in Lord Peter, which requires dealing with their complicated, awkward relationship. Unfortunately much like Nine Tailors, Sayers isn’t as interested in the mystery as the college (she’s an Oxford grad herself) so get lots of long, tedious discussions about academic life, whatever-became-of-, friendship, and an educated woman’s place in the world . It’s not as bad as Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin but it is a low point for the series.

UNBOUND: Book Three of Magic Ex Libris by Jim Hines is another disappointment (I liked both Libriomancer and Codex Born). It start of well with Isaac shell-shocked and depressed due to the outcome of Book Two, plus a spectacular heist sequence (robbing a vampire blood-bank in orbit!), but before long it’s just drawing-room fantasy—people sitting around, talking about what to do, talking about how to stop the bad guy, talking, talking, talking … and while Isaac is powerless here, when he has two top-flight sorcerers covering his butt, the tension is actually less. However I will give Hines top marks for not crapping out on the release of magic in the world at the end of Codex Born and following up on that here—the SF con discussing what this means for fantasy fiction was a hoot.

THE PAST IS A FOREIGN COUNTRY by David Lowenthal looks at the various ways we relate to the past (as a guide to our present-day lives; as a source of rules for How Things Should Be; as a barbaric era we’ve risen above), how those have changed over time or been debated within a given time (is Great Classic Art a millstone around our necks or a shining beacon of inspiration?), how we preserve relics of the past and ultimately what we’re to make of it (“As we see different historical eras as distinctive, we also lose the sense of a grand sweep of history leading to the present.”). I picked this up mostly for a discussion of time travel and different reasons to visit the past (change history, gain wisdom, exploit your future knowledge etc.); in its own right, good and interesting but very dry.

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A couple of interesting links (#SFWApro)

A history of Jesus imagery and how he got to be sexy.

•Roswell 70 years after the aliens.

•When breeding chinchillas was the path to wealth.

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Plus a Couple More (#SFWApro)

MV5BMTg0OTEzNTI4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjI2NTYyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_The Polish BLIND CHANCE (1988) is a film in the Sliding Doors mode that explores three different timelines, all springing from a students’ different interactions with a beer drinker in a bar. As a result, the protagonist becomes a Communist Party member, reform activist or apolitical, though unusually he comes to a bad end in all three. Uninspired. “My mother was so proud when she saw my Party card, she cried.”

LOST IN SPACE (1998) was one I expected would be marginal (a last-minute time travel bit) but the time-travel element (one of the characters twenty years in the future trying to fix everything) is substantial enough it goes in the body of the book, not the appendix. In its own right, this reworking of the sixties TV show is dull despite a cast that includes William Hurt, Gary Oldman, Matt leBlanc and other capable actors; it’s very episodic (the need to save the world sort of fades into the background), with a dull monster (looks too much like a knockoff of Stargate: SG-1‘s Replicators) and the family drama (trying to save Earth, dad has neglected his son, who suffers so much with dad’s love!) feels stock. “Monsters live to devour little boys—I know because I’m one of them.”

(All rights to image reside with current holder)

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And also comics! (#SFWApro)

GREEN LANTERN: Wrath of the First Lantern is an overlapping volume with Geoff Johns’ final work on GL, The End. Here we learn how the Green Lantern Corps, the Red Lantern Corps and the New Guardians battled along with Hal and Sinestro against Volthoom, the emotion-manipulating First Lantern. Unfortunately Volthoom is a completely stock villain who feeds on human emotion and suffering and has no personality to compensate, so this was a big, heavy waste of time.

19539419 BLACK WIDOW: The Finely Woven Thread by Nathan Edmonson and Phil Noto (cover by Noto, all rights to current holder) has Natasha atoning for her past spy crimes by taking on new missions as a mercenary to raise money for charity. I’m not entirely sure why she needs so much atonement (Bucky did plenty of nasty as the Winter Soldier and he’s made his peace with it) but that said, this was readable, but less fun than Velvet.

BATMAN, THE DARK KNIGHT: Mad by Gregg Hurwitz and Ethan Van Sciver shows the same flaws as Hurwitz’ earlier Cycle of Violence, only worse, turning one of Batman’s villains into a mass murderer with no regard for personality or goals. In this case the Mad Hatter gets to kill one woman with an iron and gouge out the eyes of people who displease him, all part of his plan to work out some gender issues dating back to high school. It’s one thing to make Bat-villains even more homicidal, it’s quite another to make them generically homicidal (this has nothing to do with the Hatter’s usual MO). Oh, and we have Bruce falling so madly in love with the woman of the issue that he’s ready to give up his career and live with her (I can’t see why)—only no, the Mad Hatter kills her! The gloves are coming off now! As classic an example of “fridging” a supporting character as you can ask for, and it’s not as if Batman is a character in need of angst to motivate him.

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