[REVIEW] End of Month Reviews #29 - May 2006 [spoilers]

Tom Russell milos_parker at yahoo.com
Mon Jun 12 07:22:51 PDT 2006

Saxon Brenton wrote:
> [REVIEW] End of Month Reviews #29 - May 2006 [spoilers]


This was one EoMR that was definitely worth the wait-- lots of in-depth
coverage and thematic musings.

> An Obnoxious Guy in Spandex Fighting Guys in Trenchcoats Fighting Ninjas #1
> A Legion of Net.Heroes and Net.Trenchcoat Brigade [LNH/NTB] cascade
> by Tom Russell
>      Following on from the burst of enthusiasm last month for the idea
> of trenchcoaters fighting ninjas, Tom presents this cascade.  Grammar
> Lad tries to explain that the plural of ninja in ninja rather than
> ninjas, but is rudely interrupted by a fight scene between trenchcoaters
> and ninja.  Then we cut to the return of a young man who takes the
> position of Kanas - Dark Lord of the Ninjas from his father,.

I'm sure it's just a typo, but it's Kansas-- so named because all the
dialogue in his scene is lifted, line-for-line, from the Kansas song,
"Carry On Wayward Son."

... no, my wife didn't get it, either. :-)

> The Nostalgics #1
> `And I Spoke For All Things'
> An Eightfold [8Fold] miniseries
> by Tom Russell
>      Straight off then: yes, I tried to find the Superman reference
> for the contest; no, I didn't get it.  My Superman knowledge skills are
> basically at trivia rather than scholarly settings, and so while I have
> a lot of it, it doesn't cover everything.  Looking at the answer, I
> don't think that was even something I once knew and subsequently forgot.
> And, no, I won't be taking part in the second contest because I helped
> Tom with some of the worldbuilding behind it, and read the name of the
> mystery character in the excerpt draft of the story he sent me.
>      So.  The story starts with the intriguing setup of Jason Righteous
> introducing himself, telling us bluntly that he's the one who betrayed
> the Nostalgics, but that he doesn't know why.  Then things jump back as
> Jason narrates his origin story, which basically means how his childhood
> was messed up by his powerful but esoteric ability to talk with non-human
> life forms which has the serious limitation of being pretty much
> uncontrollable.  He also tells of how he persisted in his attempts to
> be a superhero named Connection and help people, despite his sometimes
> crippling powers.  It's a pretty heroic attitude, if you think about
> it -- exposing yourself to physical danger with powers that aren't just
> non-versatile and not useful in a fight, but can actually heighten the
> amount of danger he could be in.
>      Jason seems to be a rather balanced character.  Practical in his
> attempts to deal with his disabling aspects of his power while at the
> same time being human enough to feel occasional anger about his
> situation.  I particularly liked the comment about not wanted to get a
> dog companion in case he was perceived as the pooch's sidekick..

I'm glad you enjoyed it, Saxon, and that Jason came off as balanced.
One could argue that his powers are a thinly-vieled metaphor for such
dehibilitating mental disorders such as schizophrenia or even
low-functioning autism.

The character, in many ways, is somewhat similiar to Gregory Dingham,
in that both are:

(1) beings with immense power that, at the beginning of the story, they
don't fully understand how to use, (2) anti-heroes whose actions are
morally repugnant, and (3) intended to be something of a prickly
everyman: that is, while I try to give them particular traits and
definable personalities, these should not get in the way of
identification and acts of empathy.

As in SPEAK!, I'd like the reader to consider personal morality, and I
hope to explore certain issues of right, wrong, and why basically good
people do the wrong things and, hey, if they're doing the wrong things,
do they cease to be good people?  I personally feel that people are
defined by their actions and not their intentions, but by that
definition not only is Gregory Dingham a villain, but I'm something of
a bastard myself.  Which is not a notion I'm comfortable with.

The thing about Gregory is, here was a character and a story that dealt
with trangressing against one's self (as Saxon pointed out), and,
because I wanted to reduce the moral conflict and focus it to an
interior one, I removed all the external motivations I could think of:
Gregory doesn't steal because he's poor (because he's not poor), he
doesn't attack superheroes because he's insane or
politically-motivated, he's doesn't fall in with Harry Cash because of
some uber-hot supervillainess he wants to bed.  Some could argue, and
some have, that this is really the wrong way to go: that without some
identifiable and sympathetic motivation, that the character is evil and
that's all there is to it.  I hope that my portrait of Gregory is more
complex than that, and that, beyond the pleasures of story and
character, SPEAK! can be of utility to people examining the nature of
their own inner evil or base desires on a somewhat didactic level: that
is, the question is not why he does things, but why he does things
without a "why" behind them.

With Jason, on the other hand, the focus is much more on external
matters.  If SPEAK! is about unmotivated crime, then THE NOSTALGICS is
about looking for the motivations.  They are, however, _not_ external
in the sense of politics, sex, poverty, et cetera, but external in the
sense of interpersonal pressures, of conflicts within the team and,
perhaps, feelings of impotency: which, really, boils down to emotions
(anger, jealousy, loneliness) and thus are internal ones.

Now, I haven't given away the ghost here: the "motivation" behind the
ultimate betrayal, if you could term the muddied mix of living
conditions, social anxiety, and emotions as a "motivation", still needs
exploring and I think we'll get more of that as the series presses on.

I think it's interesting that I've chose to re-edit NET.HEROES ON
PARADE at this time, because, as most of you know, the last arc of the
series (18-23, which might, because of # 21's length, be posted in two
TEBs) is concerned with the betrayal of Michette Duclos to Chatillon.
The betrayals therein, however, were selfishly motivated: the traitors
were each given a gift (their heart's desire) in return for their
compliance.  It was interesting to explore what made those characters
tick, what would make them cross the line.

And I'm trying to do the same with THE NOSTALGICS, trying to find out
what makes Jason betray the team.  However, the difference is that
while in NHOP the characters were given their thirty pieces of silver,
Jason will not be promised any reward.  No one will put the idea of
betrayal in his head, no one will make him an offer.  It is an act
completely of his own volition and choosing, which I think will make it
all the more terrifying and, from the point of view of moral
instruction, of greater utility when looking at the nature of evil.

> situation.  I particularly liked the comment about not wanted to get a
> dog companion in case he was perceived as the pooch's sidekick..

I'm glad you liked that bit.  I was a bit worried about THE NOSTALGICS
for a number of formal reasons.

The central conceit of it is that the series is a long confession on
the part of Jason Righteous.  The big problem with this, right off the
bat, is length.  If one can buy the fact that it's an extremely and
extraordinarily long confession, on par with the last words of Dutch
Schultz, then the reader has met me half way on the suspension bridge
of disbelief.  And so I resolved to, in all other ways possible, stick
to the form and the character's voice as much as I can.

For example, when you're telling a long story, it's unlikely that
you're going to remember three-page dialogue passages from your life
whole-sale.  You might remember a few lines here and there, and the
general gist of it.  If you're describing something, your description
would not be ornate in the "literary" sense, but rather made up of a
few telling details and glossed over.  Personalities of people you've
met will also be glossed over, summarized, explained in a few
short-hand phrases and memorable anctedotes.


It's very, very, very hard to create "good" fiction (that is, fiction
defined by precise word choices, sound story structure, believable
dialogue, showing and not telling, three-dimensional characters) in
this format, which is why books and movies and comics using this format
basically use it so that the first-person narrator can make occassional

Because this lacks the "good" or "quality" fiction staples, because so
much of what turns me on as a writer has to be jerry-rigged in without
being too noticeable (other than, of course, the moral angle and
thematic obsessions), and because I'm denied my basic propensity
towards purple prose, it's not going to deliver on what many readers
are expecting.  Which is why I used Jason's power, whenever possible,
as a springboard for what I hope are amusing (and necessarily
short-hand) observations: for example, snakes are always trying to kill
you; no, your cat doesn't like you; and the bit about not wanting to be
the dog's sidekick (which isn't an observation based on his powers, per
se, but you get my drift).

These are basically and transparently my attempts to deliver
foregrounded pleasure, so that (1) the reader will stick it through the
eight issues, (2) I can keep to the formal constraints as much as
possible, and (3)  the promises of "good" fiction are delivered in an
opaque and backgrounded way, hopefully seeping in and felt instead of
observed.  It is important to me to do it this way, because otherwise I
would end up with a piece of experimental constrained writing that's
admirable for its formal qualities, but dead, lifeless, and
impenetrable to the everyday reader (in whose ranks I gladly include
myself.  I'd rather read Sherwood Kiraly over James Joyce or Burroughs
any day).


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