REVIEW: A Comparision of Superfreaks Season 2 # 6 and Encyclopedia Brown

Tom Russell milos_parker at
Fri Aug 10 23:18:14 PDT 2007


I apologize if you feel insulted.

Usually, even when I find certain parts of one of your stories to be
lacking, I find things I enjoy about them-- like the aforementioned
Mary/Edward characterization, which I feel is a highlight of the first
season, or the details of Atlantean life, or your sense of humour.
With this particular issue, I didn't enjoy the characterization, there
weren't any details that caught my interest, and I didn't find
anything particularly amusing.  So, in the case of this one issue, I
found it to be lacking on several levels, which is what I tried to
express in my review.

I stand by the review, and I apologize, again, if you feel in any way
slighted or insulted.  It wasn't my intention.  I did not write with
any bile or malice.

You and I both know the story behind the "review" of #4-17; and in
that thread, I said:

"Give me some time to reread the stories, and I'll have a more in-

Which is what I endeavor to do now.  I'll be taking them one at a
time, and it will be a slow, slow process-- I also intend to review
the ILC stories, and anything else I can get my hands on.  Reviews
don't come as quickly to me as they used to be, and I often need to
reread a story a third or fourth time to really have anything to say
about it.  It took me a while with this sixth issue, because I had
trouble vocalizing what I felt was lacking.  I used the example of
Encyclopedia Brown because the central flaw of that series-- withheld
information-- was, to my mind, the central flaw of this particular
story.  Perhaps we disagree there, and I won't harp on it any longer.

But my point-- that the Encyclopedia Brown series redeems itself by a
few different qualities, and that those qualities are often present in
Superfreaks but that I found them not present in this case-- was never
intended to insult you.

I don't think this review-- or the review of the first TEB-- or even
my review of your porno story over on rec.arts.erotica-- are attacks.
Again, if you do feel attacked, I'm sorry.

I only go on the attack, as it were, in an extreme case.  My reviews
of Jesse Willey's stories were often less than kind, but usually that
was because he killed my characters without permission, or used them
without permission, or-- and this is perhaps a worse crime-- his
stories were ugly and cynical.

I've never written a Jesse Willey type review of one of your stories,
Martin.  And I don't think I ever will.  I respect you too much as a
writer, and as a friend.  Remember that my very first long essay about
an RACCer was about you.

I will deny the charge that I thought Superfreaks wasn't good enough
for Eightfold, and the charge that my suggestions were anything but
suggestions, until my dying day.  I'm sorry if that's the way I made
you feel.  But if you look at _all_ the reviews I've done of the
series, since day one, I think I've parcelled out equal parts praise
and reservation, which reflects my own ambiguity about the series.
That ambiguity has nothing to do with the way in which the series was
created, and everything to do with the series itself.

Sometimes the stories are very good, sometimes the twists are
interesting, sometimes the details are invigorating.  Sometimes, they
aren't.  You do seem to have a better track record-- to my mind-- when
you stick with your essential premise-- the police investigating.  I
don't think the actiony type stuff is your strong suit, at least with
this series.

> Tom, I've never been a big fan of Superman because, frankly, I could
> never believe that a man could fly.  The original motion picture (I
> feel old now) changed my mind in that it did, as promised, make me
> believe that a man could fly, at least long enough for me to enjoy the
> movie.  (Superman lifting a mountain of kryptonite in the latest
> movie, however, I couldn't swallow.)  To this day, however, I don't
> believe that gorillas can talk, although I would be willing to accept
> the idea of gorillas in the distant future learning to talk following
> a nuclear holocaust on Earth (a la Planet of the Apes).  The point is
> that my ability to suspend disbelief is far less practiced than yours,
> proabably as a result of my scientific background.  I am aware of this
> so I know that when I criticise another person's story that my own
> personal disbelief is going to be a big issue for me, moreso than for
> the writer himself no doubt who just considers superheroes and talking
> gorillas (and snails) "fun".  Well me, I think it is fun to combine
> the names Britany Spears and Paris Hilton to create Britany Hilton or
> change one letter of Zod to make Zon, things like that.  You might
> want to take in consideration in the future that criticisms could be
> seen as attacks upon our own personal definition of "fun".

I understand your point, Martin.  I think, as you point out, that this
is a case in which our aesthetic tastes are a bit different.  I never
mean to imply that your taste or definition of fun is lacking, and I
never mean to attack it or you.

At the same time, it would be lax of me not to write an honest
review.  If I don't respond to something, or if it bugs me, I have to
say so.  If I feel something doesn't work, then I have to say so, and
I try to say why, in as clear a way as possible.

Now, it could be I just don't "get" it, or I'm just not the right
person for that particular story.  I know you dislike talking gorillas
and snails as so forth, while I'm all aglow at the very mention of
such things.  If you say so, I won't get miffed; I know that it's just
not your thing.  And that's perfectly alright.

I'll try not to harp on things that bug me, but if I feel it weakens a
story and I say so, please, take it with a grain of salt, because
these things are part of what turns you on that doesn't do it for me.

> > That being said, if one learns something from those stories--
> > as I often did from the Encyclopedia Brown books-- then that goes a
> > long way towards making it fun.  Details are a big part of the appeal,
> > for me, of most genre fiction.
> To be honest, I prefer non-fiction.  If I don't learn something from
> what I read then I might as well be watching TV.

I read a lot of non-fiction myself.  But, as Henry James once said,
art is the news that stays the news.

> To be honest, I think a lot of dramas (police dramas, legal dramas,
> medical dramas, sci fi dramas) do talk down to the audience, the
> culprit being the aforementioned technobabble.  Granted, it's only in
> sci fi that the babble is truly babble but an evening of CSI, ER and
> Law and Order can be a bit much.  ("We have a 4-19 and a 2-11.
> Officer down.  Repeat.  Officer down."   "He's hemoraging from the
> Lumbar region!  We need an IV with a saline solution stat!"  "The
> evidence was obtained through standard procedure, the defense's
> objections notwithstanding.  The people versus Gimble, 1989.")

 I recently saw a film called "Primer".  It was a time-travel film,
and it did not stop to explain any of the scientific concepts upon
which it as based.  It expected the audience to be as smart as the

Now, I didn't feel talked down to in this instance, and I think that's
because by keeping it "real", they didn't fall into the exposition
trap, in which they explain things to each other that they already
know (as you mention later in your post).  And so I make an exception
to the "talking down" rule for Industry Jargon.

As for the film?  It was interesting, at first, but it could have been
a lot better.  It was flashy in its grungy kind of way, the way many
"debut" films are; I just wish there had been more to it than that.

> > It didn't say "books by" because I was using a metaphor.
> An obtuse one.

Ouch!  That one was a zinger, I've got to admit.

Martin: 1, Tom: 0. :-)

> Since when is "m-----f---ing" an expression of incredulity?

Maybe it's a Midwest thing, but I've often heard profanity used to
express incredulity, or used as an amplifier of an statement meant to
imply incredulity.  It certainly wasn't meant as an insult, and I'm
sorry if it came across that way.

> I know.  I didn't want to bring it up again but, to be fair, you've
> been criticising Superfreaks Season 2 #6 for being weak as a mystery
> and I honestly and truly don't think it was a good idea for you to go
> there because that's not where your talent lies.

No, it's not where my talent lies, and I'll admit that freely.  But I
think it's a common fallacy that if you can't do something, it
precludes you from commenting on it.  I can't draw worth a lick, but
that doesn't make Rob Liefeld's anatomy any better, nor does it make
him exempt from my criticism.  Or, if one was given a blowjob of poor
quality, just because one couldn't do it any better doesn't mean they
just have to grin and bear it. :-)

I understand that your tastes edge more towards CSI, which I
admittedly haven't seen.  And I mentioned as much in my review that
started this thread.  I'm sure for that type of story, it's very
good.  Perhaps I shouldn't judge it on the criteria of puzzle-based
mysteries, just as I earlier claimed that one shouldn't judge Jolt
City, which is a superhero story, as a police procedural.

Again, I can only measure things by my tastes and experience, and I
don't claim to be infallible.  I expect the same of any review of my
own work, whether it be negative or positive.

> The best part of
> Jolt City has been the action scenes.  The best part of the original
> Green Knight series were the first three issues focusing on Ray
> Crandle's illness and how he chose to deal with it.  The best part of
> Speak was not so much Greggory but the villainous Gas Man who, like
> Kaiser Souze, told stories that weren't always true.  Come to think of
> it, starting with Net.Heroes on Parade and all the way through to the
> first few issues of the original Green Knight series your
> characterisation was pretty good: you could tell from the way they
> talked that Gas Man and Ray Crandle were older men with experience.
> That's exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about when I talk about
> speech patterns: they didn't use catch phrases but you could still
> tell who was talking just from snippets of their dialogue.  

Thank you.

> your stories since then haven't featured characters that are that well
> defined.  I wouldn't go as far to say that Dani and Pam are
> "interchangable plot puppets" but it's an accusation you should be
> willing to defend against if you are going to level it against others.

That's true, and I'll try to defend them at a point in the future.  I
think one problem might be my shifting sense of definition of
character; that is: I don't write "showy" characters any more.  I'm
more concerned now with moral dillemas, ambiguities of behaviour, and
the gradual revelation of a person's psychology.

I can write showy characters, the sort that leaps off the page fully-
formed and ready to entertain.  Characters that are easily defined and
summed up.  But I tend to find that they are more shallow than the
ones I'm attracted to now, and that I tend to exhaust their
possibilities sooner.  With this series, I'm really trying for
something that's long-term, and thus more gradual.

Hopefully not too gradual: I hope that each issue more-or-less stands
on its own.

I think that Martin Rock is a well-defined character, but he's not one
that's easy to describe.  Saxon's hit upon a few things in his
reviews, as have you.

I think I have illustrated some differences between Dani and Pam,
besides age-- the fact that Dani is a virgin over forty years old, for
example, while Pam is more confident in her sexuality.  Dani is not as
quick to forgive, or to take a chance on someone, as Pam is.  Neither
woman takes any shit from anybody, and both are, I hope, attractive in
their own ways.

In some ways, though, Pam is a "flashy" or "showy" character.  Her
very sexiness and her attitude are not what one would call subtle.

One problem you've pointed out is that, because the series unfolds
from Martin's point of view, we only see the other characters as he
sees them.  One reason for this is that it's very much Martin's story,
despite the title.  But here is a case where your taste leans more
towards an ensemble, and multiple points of view.

As I move farther from the solo adventure story format, and as Martin
moves farther from the independent vigilante, the series will move
closer to a "social novel" format-- we will not only see other
characters as Martin sees them, but Martin as others see him.

The trick, of course, is to keep some semblance of focus-- I don't
want the thing to degenerate into subplotitis.


I can't promise that my reviews will always be positive, and I can't
promise that you'll never be offended by them.

But I can promise that I never set out to offend, and I can apologize
if any offense was given.

And, once again, congratulations on the baby; hope everyone is well.
One of my brothers was a preemie and I know how trying a time like
this can be.


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