My sci-fi

Now that I've revealed the Secret Project as a science fiction novel, I want to clarify what I mean by sci fi. Like any other genre, it covers a wide range of subgenres and as it turns out I am kind of picky.

My sci-fi is human-oriented and somewhat realistic. No monsters or aliens, which I consider kind of cheesy and a story crutch. There may be other life out there, but I think they make for weak stories, because most of the time, aliens are used as stand ins for exploring human drama. So why not study the human drama directly?

Oh, and no time travel. The ultimate story crutch. It's the high fructose corn syrup of plot devices, overly sweet and the end result is just wanting more.

My sci-fi is driven by human drama and human society. Call it social science fiction. It's not 'hard' sci-fi, which is defined as sci-fi that is driven by lots of 'hard' physical science. Hard sci-fi often comes off as written for the author's amusement rather than for the reader. And the hard sci-fi crowd thumps their chests about how they follow actual physical laws, except when they don't, because wouldn't that be cool? Fiction about the laws of physics or biochemistry is not really dramatic, especially when you get the feeling that Geordi will just channel power from the structural integrity field at the last moment to save the day.

Social science fiction is more concerned with how human society will develop in the future. Are there better forms of government or economics or family arrangements? There are plenty of examples of this subgenre from every point of view (one of the most audacious for its time being Robert Heinlein's 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress'). Still, this kind of sci-fi is relatively hard to find as one can see that most sci-fi stories swing between high tech dictatorships or enlightened democracies.

My sci-fi is the kind that tries to report back from the future, or a version of the future. The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson delves a bit into these issues, for example. While outlandish futurescapes may be fun to gawk at, they're pretty lightweight as far as exploring ideas unless they have a link to something realistic. And the best sci-fi is idea driven.

Batman versus Superman

Micro Trackball is into some serious superhero worship, just like I was when I was his age. He is in love with Batman and Superman. I have been getting a heavy dose of both of these guys (and together in Justice League) and I am amazed at how my reactions to them has not changed over time.

Batman has always been my favorite. Show me the bat symbol and a little zing of excitement goes through me. Why? He's the world's best detective, he is dark and brooding, has cool gadgets, has the Batcave and gets to use his dark side to do good. But most importantly - he has no superpowers. All his powers are of his own creation. The only thing he inherited from his parents was a fortune and a sense of basic decency. He is the ultimate meritocratic hero - a meritocrat disguised as an aristocrat. He wears the cowl because he can scare bad guys and because it is so cool. Batman could exist today. I could be Batman. You could be Batman.

Superman, on the other hand, is kind of empty. He is such a thin shallow character because he is nothing more than a fantasy, a godlike figure who comes from another world to save us all from ourselves or other space aliens, or to save Lois Lane again and again and again. He can essentially do anything to the point that his very existence is ridiculous. None of us can be Superman because we're human and not worthy. His personality and brains are kind of missing and there's not much there there. And the villains, other than the simplistic Lex Luthor, are all from bad sci-fi casting 101.

Truth is, Superman is the Man of Cardboard, not of Steel. He sounds like a bad idea from a grade school creative writing assignment. The whole Superman story should have been left behind after a broken pitch meeting for a direct to video sci-fi film if it had been created now. But at the dawn of comics, in the Depression, he became wildly popular. Now he still exists as a hugely popular superhero. But the question persists - can a Superman story stand on it's own without Lois Lane? Not really, because between the two of them, she's the only actual character.

Batman has some interesting narrative possibilities. He is a vigilante who has vowed to not kill. He is compassionate but a loner. All of his villains are other normal or abnormal humans. He isn't loaded with all the angst and bitching and whining of the Marvel superheroes but he does have his problems. He is pretty human. He is a standalone character with more story potential and doesn't need the same old supporting cast to keep it interesting.

Superman, if he were alive, would be universally reviled. The public really dislikes 'perfect' people. A guy who is better than anyone is hated by everyone. He would be told that us mere mortals can solve our own problems, thank you very much. If his super hearing picked up two people in mortal danger, and he could save only one, he would be hated for letting the other person die. Maybe if he had a gut, or a heroin addiction, or was funny or something, he could fit in better. But the public would still love to hate him.

Batman would have rock-star status, in part because he would be a dark mystery.

While both heroes are of course, escapist myths, they are strongly different flavors. Flavors that probably say something about the type of people drawn to them. The best escapist fiction needs to provide the audience with a way they can fit into that world and to be happy there. Superman, while more cheery (no ghettos in Metropolis) offers a bleak view of how the reader might fit into such a universe. You either are Superman (and you're not) or you just panic for a while until he shows up. Everyone is scenery or cannon fodder for Supes and his godlike foes. Actually being him would be a really boring gig. Fans just want his powers, not his job or his life. Supes is like being God in the Old Testament - omnipotent, but not really the focus of attention and not really challenged. Someone else's Deus Ex Machina. People buying into that ideal are waiting for a savior to sweep in and fix everything that's wrong. That's fine if you're three, but not if you're an adult.

Batman, on the other hand, usually lives in a more realistic universe with a human scale. The villains are people too, and even though Gotham is gritty, people can choose to be good or bad, to make moral choices and to live with the consequences. Everyone bears responsibility for how their life has turned out and how their community does. Batman does judge people and dislikes the helpless types waiting for a superman. Here is a billionaire who not only runs a huge corporation that is oriented to help Gotham, he is personally cleaning up the streets too. He is not going to pat you on the head because he respects each person enough to expect them to do better. That's great if you're an adult, but it's perfect if you're three, or five, or nine years old.

So we'll see who Micro prefers as he gets drawn deeper and deeper into the superhero realm. I've already noticed that he while he really digs Superman, he doesn't know what hardly any of his powers are and when playing with him, doesn't know what to do with a guy who can beat up everyone else. Batman he understands better - he needs a Batgrapple to fly through the air, he throws Batarangs, he has a distinctive voice. Batman can win or lose. He hasn't pondered yet what a fight between them would be like, but he's right on the cusp of it.

The truth is, Superman would kill Batman in a second. But Batman would know that ahead of time and would use all his skills and smarts to figure out a way to avoid the fight or to neutralize Superman's powers.

What would Superman be thinking about such a fight? Um, nothing? Who knows?

Go Batman.

The end of the Aikido experiment

Several things conspired to make me give up Aikido, at least for the time being. One was scheduling: the class ran past my bedtime and I was getting seriously exhausted from going twice a week.

A large reason was a junior high-ish feeling of inferiority. I was by far the smallest person in the class, the most physically inept. And with Aikido being one of the hardest martial arts, and me just a newbie in the martial arts realm, the odds were against me. Most of the other students have had previous martial arts and/or military training and have much easier learning curves than I. There was no flow going on at all, except in very brief moments that came at very long intervals.

This all added up to it being less than fun for me. And when something is not fun, I drop it like a cold stone. Boy scouts as well as many other activities ended for the same reason. The truth is that life is short and I go where I can maximize my enjoyment.