The Cliffs of Insanity: “Let’s Instagram the Gorn!”

Kansas  City, Union Station, GeekMom, GeekDad
The science display at the Kansas City Union Station gift shop includes GeekMom and GeekDad! /photo by Corrina Lawson

This week’s adventures climbing the cliffs of insanity include a report on the Science Fiction/Fantasy panel at the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention that included John Scalzi among the group (that’s his quote in the headline),  a mind-blowing experiment in gender-flipping covers of books (you must see this), and a discussion with my son about the death of Jason Todd spurred on by the commentary track on Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker.

The panel at RT was called “SF/F: Seduced by the Unknown: How SF Challenges Your Mind and Heart.” Scalzi, who detailed his experiences at RT on his whatever blog, was one panelist among a group of funny and fascinating SF/F authors: Linnea Sinclair, Stacey KadeJanet Miller (aka Cricket Starr), Beth Revis, P.J. Schnyder, and Sarah Zettel.

After the panelists kidded that Scalzi’s RT Award would make a great murder weapon, Sinclair, who  moderated the panel, starting it off with a lightning round of questions such as “Star Trek or Firefly?” The question was answered so fast that I confess I don’t know who answered what. The next question, “evil overlord” or “galactic prince or princess,” was even more fun but the answers were skewed by the fact the naming widget Sinclair used inevitably spit out better names for evil overlords.

But the authors got down to business when they started answering the question “Why are we fascinated by aliens?”

“You’re looking at what we’re afraid of and what we’re hopeful for,” said Kade, who writes YA science fiction with alien hybrids in high school. “With aliens, we’re modeling the human mind.”

C.L. Moore, Lester Del ReyZettel referred back to a C.L. Moore story in which two aliens fall in love via telepathy but when they see each other, they are physically repulsive. Yet the two creatures persevere and decide they are in love after all. “It’s deeply optimistic,” she said. “Aliens represent possibilities. We’re really looking at different aspects of humanity.”

When asked if SF/F has moved from inspiring to escapism, especially in the Young Adult genre, the panel rejected the premise.

“New readers may be approaching a concept for the first time, and that means something to them, the first time they encounter an idea,” Scalzi said, adding that even if older readers roll their eyes at having seen a particular plot or trope many times previously, it doesn’t matter to the next generation.

Revis pointed out she has a generation ship in her young adult SF novels, a time-honored SF concept. “My readers respond to that. They haven’t seen that. And the story isn’t about a trope but about how the characters respond to that trope.”

“I’m dealing with alien/human hybrids but yet my readers relate. Everybody has felt like they don’t ever fit in anywhere. When I was in high school, I was always afraid my secret dorkiness would be exposed. Hopefully, kids will find the inspiration to be themselves,” Kade said.Stacey Kade, Project Paper Doll, YA Science Fiction

“Science fiction is doing the same thing it’s always done, looking at the human reactions to possibilities,” Zettel said.

Miller said her daughter does a Google Hangout  called “Timey-Wimey TV” and her group was doing Star Trek episodes but skipped “The City on the Edge of Forever,” because it was such a familiar story. Miller objected to her daughter, when then invited her mother onto the hangout to talk about why that episode was so important to her generation.

This led to a tangent about how Star Trek had inspired the current technological revolution, which has now surpassed what the show envisioned. (Making me certain that the majority of the writers picked Trek and not Firefly, especially Scalzi.)

“Imagine what Kirk would do with our technology? We could instagram the Gorn!” Scalzi said.

While your mind’s being blown by that, try this next item:

My Mind is BLOWN

This week, author Maureen Johnson tweeted a challenge to gender-flip covers of popular novels to prove a point about how women often get the “soft-sell” or perceive less serious covers and men get, well, the opposite. She asked artists to gender-flipped the covers of such books as Game of Thrones and ones by Neil Gaiman.

Go watch the slideshow of the original covers and their gender-flipped versions. It’s amazing.

Thought #1:

Johnson is right. Covers for men and women authors are set up very differently despite similar subject matter.

Thought #2:

I’m part of the problem because, yes, after seeing these I had to admit I perceived a qualify difference between the more “manly” (for lack of a better word) and the girly-oriented covers. You can see it right away in the covers for Game of Thrones, by Georgette Martin.

Seriously, go look at the slideshow.

Holy Phone Rigging, Batman!

Batman, Jason Todd, Joker, Jim  AparoOut of the blue last week, my son asked me about the death of Jason Todd and if the original story, Batman: Death in the Family, was worth reading.

Since he’s not big into Batman comics, I asked where he’d heard about it. The answer was the commentary track on Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, one of his favorite movies.

In that movie, it’s revealed that Tim Drake had a great deal to do with the Joker’s death, which led to the commentary discussion on the death of Jason Todd (the second Robin) and the impact of his death on Batman stories since 1989. Todd was infamously killed that year as the result of a call-in voting stunt in which readers had to choose between Todd living and dying. (First, I had to explain to my son about call-in polls, which is sorta like explaining rotary phones.)

The impact of Todd’s death at the hands of the Joker is still reverberating through Batman stories to this day, especially since he was brought back from the dead a sullen, angry young adult a few years ago.

But what I didn’t realize until recently was that this sea-change of Batman-characterization that has continued in the twenty-odd years since Todd’s death may have been the result of a single caller who illegally voted multiple times. This reader apparently hated Jason Todd. The voting was tight on death/life (5,343 votes to 5,271).

From the wikipedia article: Years later, O’Neil would admit hundreds of votes in the “Jason Dies” line came from a single person, adding a large degree of uncertainty to the honesty of results regarding a poll designed to determine the character’s popularity. “I heard it was one guy, who programmed his computer to dial the thumbs down number every ninety seconds for eight hours, who made the difference”, O’Neil [editor of the story] said in a Newsarama interview conducted alongside writer Judd Winick during the “Under The Hood” arc.

And so an even darker Batman was born. And so he remains, now with the death of another Robin, his son Damian Wayne, to torment him. All quite possibly not from brilliant creators like Denny O’Neil, Frank Miller, or Grant Morrison this by an angry fan who packed the voting. My son wasn’t sure to be impressed or appalled.

I suspect nobody is ever going to try that kind of publicity stunt again. In the meantime, I promised my son I’d pick up the Batman: Death in the Family collection. If nothing else, it features art by the late, great Jim Aparo and that’s always worth a purchase.

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Writer, Mom, Geek and Superhero. though usually not all four on the same day. Author of the award-winning Phoenix Institute Superhero series and the steampunk novel, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract.