Jul 18 2008

A question for fans and reviewers of the Superhero Nation novel

Published by at 12:10 pm under Superhero Nation

In the chapters we’ve written so far for Superhero Nation, the world is decidedly inspired by comic books. Super-battles between caped avengers are commonplace and at least one American government agency is headed by a non-human. Surf City is hit by intelligent plants, then zombies, then giant robots.

We received a letter from a reviewer…

I’ve noticed that your characters can be separated into two main categories: those that are used to the world being crazy and those that come off like ordinary people subjected to a whole lot of craziness. In the first category, I’d put pretty much every long-time superhero (particularly Agent Orange), and in the second category I’d put only Jacob Mallow and Agent Black.

That has weaknesses. When Jacob Mallow goes to Surf City, it’s hard to imagine that anyone could be ignorant of the fact that Surf City gets attacked by things like robot-plants every summer.

The discrepancy between the normality of banality of Jacob and Agent Black with the absolute weirdness of Agent Orange (an alien government agent who refers to himself as Tyranno-thesaurus Rex with a straight face) is hard for me as a reader to resolve. It’s almost like Jacob and Black come from another world… our world. What would you think about changing the plot so that Agent Black and Jacob Mallow actually come from our world, and are transported to the Superhero Nation’s world at some point in the story?

What do you think about using two separate worlds in the story?

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “A question for fans and reviewers of the Superhero Nation novel”

  1. timon 20 Jul 2008 at 11:51 am

    I see one problem with the whole “two separate worlds” bit – how do you *explain* them colliding without some cheesy “Stargate”-style portal? Or, even worse, one of the characters inexplicably wakes up in the second world! Ugh.

    I agree with the letter, though – it seems like half the people are accepting of the whole “Oh, we’re being attacked by alien life forms” thing, while the other half are pretty much normal like us. It’ll be a toughie to resolve, that’s for sure.

    Oh, one more thing – why do these attacks only happen in Surf City? Why don’t they happen in Missouri? What happened to surf city that made it so nasty to live in (chemical waste spill, reactor explosion) and why do regular folks still live there at all? I’d be heading for Missouri in a heartbeat!

  2. B. Macon 20 Jul 2008 at 11:55 pm

    That’s a good question, about how we would connect the two worlds. The first 2-3 chapters would probably go like this…

    –In the real world, Jacob, a disenchanted particle physicist, is working on an illegal project abusing miniature black holes. (Based loosely on something I read in Scientific American).

    –Agent Black, an uptight IRS agent, is investigating Jacob for tax evasion.

    –Agent Black attempts to arrest Jacob but Jacob flees through the device. Agent Black follows (no one escapes the IRS!) The two characters are lost on the second, comic-booky world…

    Obviously, this is a very rough sketch, but I think it’s workable.

  3. Patrick McKenzieon 22 Jul 2008 at 3:09 am

    Danger, Will Robinson: while I’m sympathetic to the critique the medicine is worse than the disease.

    As soon as you have parallel worlds the reader gets straitjacketed to Black’s perspective (he is, after all, one of “us” as opposed to one of “them” — this is one of the reasons we immediately bond with Potter and every anime protagonist ever spawned). The rest of the story is no longer about the characters, it is about the comic book world.

    Its also been done to death, both in your comic book field and in sci-fi/fantasy on a wider basis. (Narnia, etc. Didn’t SIWBI even use a parallel world? I seem to remember there being a wild I-can’t-believe-its-not-Aslan tangent continuing for a few pages near the middle.)

    A different method of ameliorating the critique: it does sort of strain plausibility that Mallow wouldn’t have know about Surf City — he’s a well-educated and frighteningly intelligent man, and was presumably not so poor that he has not had access to a newspaper, ever. Heck, with Surf City’s presumed level of notoriety you wouldn’t even need the news — people would know it was Ground Zero for Weird just like New York is rude and London is foggy.

    Black never sounds clueless — just out of his element, which is understandable in that he worked a bit part in an agency which includes very little Weird in its brief, and then was thrown into the Department of Weird. The US government, in real life, funded parapsychology research — that certainly qualifies as Weird, but it happened somewhere on the org chart very, very far away from prosaic activities like the Commissioner of Weights and Measures.

    If you want to make the disconnect between normal and Weird folks more apparent, why not analogize it explicitly to the civilian/military divide? Have Captain Carnage routinely refer to “civilians”, and have someone refer to the military’s conventional branches as “civilians” in that context once. (Agent Orange would be the excellent choice, as we know his mental model of mammalian thought processes is borked because he is, well, OK, this is sort of his defining character feature.)

    Captain Carnage: “What’s the sitrep?”
    Agent Orange: “The usual. Big monsters with teeth, got to get the civilians out and liquidate anything that oozes.”
    Captain Carnage: “I thought the briefing said the incident was in the middle of Fort Bragg? The bystanders aren’t civilians, they’re military!”
    Agent Orange: “Anyone who gets all upset just because the bad guy has 473 teeth and bounces bullets off of his skin is a ‘civilian’ in my book.”

    Everyone on the civilian side of the divide has heard of their “military” counterparts and maybe knows a bit or two about them — they’ve heard about AK47, they have a rough idea what shock and awe means, and they know the difference between a fighter jet and a battleship. But they can’t strip a rifle, can’t tell you what life is like in an army barracks aside from vague impressions they get from movies, and couldn’t tell you the difference between an M16 and an AK47. Your civilians in the book are the same way — they know that there are Things That Go Bump In The Night but are pretty hazy on the specifics.

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