I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

State of Things follow up

I was a guest on the State of Things today, along with Henry Jenkins and and James Daily, talking about Superman renouncing his US citizenship. I mentioned briefly one of my short stories in which a hero gets restored to life by a time travel paradox and the Supreme Court must decide whether or not the murder conviction of the hero's arch enemy should be overturned. If you're interested in reading that story, it's called "Where Their Worm Dieth Not." I appeared originally in an anthology edited by Lou Anders called Masked. If you're a fan of prose superheroics, I can't recommend this anthology highly enough.

The story is also available in a collection of my own short fiction, There is No Wheel, which is available only on Kindle and Nook. There are three superhero stories in this collection, and the rest of the stories roam around the speculative fiction landscape, with some ghost stories, some hard SF, and even a tale about the Rapture.

If you haven't heard the State of Things broadcast in question, it's already available for download at the WUNC website.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Clark Kent: American

Superman isn't an American. He's a known alien whose only official place of residence is an underground bunker in Antartica. While he does spend a lot of time in Metropolis, he's certainly got a good track record of saves all around the world. He's saved planes with bad engines in Argentina, put out brush fires in Africa, plugged failing dams in Korea, and rescued stranded subs in Russia. He's shown himself to be a watchman for the world.

Then there's Clark Kent. Smallville just had it's series finale, and I was a bit distressed at the choices the program made right at the end. Basically, they settled into the classic notion that Clark Kent exists mainly as a disguise for Superman.

It's a shame, because the series for most of it's run did a good job of making you understand that Clark Kent was the real person at the heart of Superman. Clark doesn't exist to give Superman a place to hide when he's tired. Clark exists because that was the only name he knew for the first two decades of his life. Clark Kent isn't a secret identity... he's an ordinary man with mid-western values who just happens to have a laundry list of superpowers he's mildly embarassed to possess. And, despite some false information on his birth certificate, Clark is 100% American.

The proof lies in his choice of career. Clark's a newspaper reporter; it's really tough to imagine a more American job. Clark probably spends the bulk of his days going to school board meetings and sitting in on zoning hearings. For the two hours he spends listening to some Metropolis city commisioner debating a new subway line, he could be out fighting crime, rescuing airplanes, or venting volcanoes. But, he's made the decision to write the article about the subway line over saving some village in South America because Clark understands that, in his ordinary job, he is an essential cog in the great machinery of democracy.

Yeah, there are going to be days where Clark has no choice but to put on the cape and go out to beat up Gorilla Grodd and his zombie monkey army. And, sure, if a plane is falling out of the sky, he's one of about a dozen people in the DC universe who can stop it. But I'd like to think that Clark, as Superman, has seen a lot of the world. He's seen countries where children are starving, other countries wracked by civil war, and plenty of places where the leaders are nothing but thugs who enrich themselves while their citizens suffer.

Clark understands that the real problems of the world aren't going to be solved by men in tights swooping in and beating up people. Instead, civilization works best when governments are freely elected and operate transparently, under the watchful eye of a free press.

Clark Kent punches the clock and works eight hours a day reporting on the boring mechanics of government because he believes that in doing so, he's building a better world. I imagine he's frustrated daily with a lot of the idiotic things that government does. He fights his most important fights by sitting down and typing, so that the people can know what is being done in their name.

Superman is a demi-god who can't be bothered with politics. He owes his loyalty to no country, and pays no taxes. Clark Kent is a citizen of the United States of America. He votes. And I bet he pays every last penny of his taxes, happy to chip in his small part toward the purchase of civilization.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Laura Kathleen Herrmann - Five Years Later

Yesterday marked the five year anniversary of Laura's death. Thursday, I took Simon and Veronica to place flowers at her grave. The headstone continues to accumulate sea shells; Laura loved to go to the beach and collect shells and beach glass. Each time I visit her grave, it seems as if the shells have changed. Some probably get washed off by rain, then chewed up by lawn mowers. But new ones always spring up to replace those that have gone missing.

Almost always, the shells are fragments, bleached perfectly white. I hadn't really thought about it before, but on this visit I found symbolic value in this; the fact that the shells are fragments reflects that Laura's life was a fragment. What we think of as a full, natural lifespan was cut short by cancer. She spent an unfair number of days of her life simply wanting to breathe deeply. I don't mean to devalue her life. She worked within her physical limits to live as fully as anyone. But, I sometimes will be at a farmer's market, or a library, or a beach, and see thin, gray haired woman walking by, smiling, engaged with friends and family and strangers, and I mourn that Laura never reached this stage of life. She would have been one kick-ass old lady.

As for the symbolism that the shells are all bleached white... as the years go by, it becomes harder to remember Laura's flaws. There's a tendency to remember her courage, her wisdom, and her strength, while setting aside her fears, her foolishness, and her weakness.

The truth is, without her fears, her foolishness, her weakness, she wouldn't have had me in her life. Not because I was such a foolish choice, but because, if she'd been perfect, she wouldn't have needed anyone's help. But, she wasn't perfect. She was afraid of dying, afraid of loneliness, terrified at times of what cruel twist fate had lying in wait for her just around the corner. My personality tends to be analyitical, cynical, and flippant, not the most attractive traits, yet well suited toward dealing with existential fears.

I don't visit Laura's grave as often as I used to. I didn't go for her birthday this year. I doubt I'll go again before late summer. By then, I'll have been back to the beach. I hope this year I can find some beach glass, pale blue and green and brown. Small fragments that will fit into the gaps in the indented letters on her headstone, filling them in with some darker shades to provide contrast with the white shells and the gray stone.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Superman was never an American

The latest attempt by DC to grab a few headlines involves Superman renouncing his US citizenship. I haven't yet read Action Comics 900, the issue this happens in, but my understanding from news reports is that Superman takes a stand in support of Arab rebels that the White House is unhappy with, so Supes goes before the UN to renounce his citizenship since he's tired of having his personal opinions mistaken for official US government policy.

Some conservatives view this as political correctness run amok. Both Mike Huckabee and Glenn Beck have denounced this action as coming from the liberal "blame America" crowd that coddles terrorists and gives comfort to our enemies.

Still, the timing is interesting, in that a poll released yesterday showed that 18% of Americans and 30% of Republicans still don't think that President Obama is an American citizen despite the fact he's released his official birth certificate twice now.

If Superman existed in today's America, he couldn't vote. He couldn't legally get a driver's license or a job. He could never testify in court. He has no birth certificate or any other papers to verify his legal identity. Under classic Superman mythology, Superman has made it public that he's an alien from the planet Krypton. He arrived here in a spaceship that illegally slipped over our borders. He has never, to my knowledge, applied for US resident status under the name "Superman." Under what possible legal argument could Superman be considered an American citizen?

It's also worth noting that, in the Silver Age comic book mythology that I grew up with, Superman was decidedly not a Christian. Instead, he still clung to a few Kryptonian practices, including at least paying lip service to the Krptonian sun-god Rao. "Great Rao!" he'd exclaim when he was astonished. Assuming he was ever caught on tape talking about Rao, don't you think the Christian right would have risen in mass to demand that Superman convert to Christianity? If he didn't, wouldn't his every actions have been suspect to the right wing talkers of the world? If 9-11 had unfolded and Superman hadn't saved the towers and the pentagon because that morning he happened to be busy fighting Brainiac, don't you think that conspiracy theories would have arisen that Superman must have wanted this to happen? Especially if Osama bin Laden then spent the next decade on the loose? You know that the Joseph Farahs and Rush Limbaughs of the world would be fill the airwaves with speculation about where, exactly, this alien's loyalties were placed.

Of course, Superman could try to silence all this talk by revealing that he had a secret identity, with adoptive American parents, and that even though he couldn't reveal his true identity, he could assure us that he was, in fact, an American. The main problem is, Clark Kent is an American purely by fraud. In the current Superman mythology, after Jonathan and Martha Kent find the alien baby in the field, they decide to pass him off as their own child. So, Clark goes to work every day with a social security number issued to him on the basis of a fraudulent birth certificate. The Kent's committed perjury. If Lex Luthor ever found this out, Clark is probably one DNA test away from deportation. And what would the American public think, knowing that aliens are sneaking over our borders to take low wage jobs that real Americans no longer want, like newspaper reporting?

Finally, despite the 1950's era slogan that Superman stood for truth, justice, and the American Way, just how does he actually embody any of these traits?

Truth? Truth is right out the window, since his whole public persona is a carefully constructed lie. Clark Kent spends every minute of his day lying, wearing glasses he doesn't need, slouching his shoulders, pretending to be a klutz with irritable bowel syndrome so he can run off to the bathroom at a moment's notice. But what can you expect, given that his adoptive parents were so adept at lying? They taught him from an early age that deceipt was a virtue. When you and I wanted to make friends as children, we were told, "Just be yourself." When Clark felt lonely and isolated, his folks said, "You can't trust friends. You can't trust anyone. Never let anyone see who you truly are." With this kind of upbringing, we should consider ourselves lucky Clark didn't turn into a serial killer.

Justice? Only if you think vigilante justice is superior to due process. Superman seems to be unable to stop a bank robbery without first punching his way through a wall. Once he's inside the bank, he destroys evidence by melting the robber's gun (conveniently wiping out fingerprints) and ruining all the surveillance tapes by spraying the room with x-rays. You know every bad guy he nabs is back on the streets inside of an hour. And, speaking of x-rays, the citizens of Metropolis must give off more rads than a Japanese power plant, given how frequently Superman scans the city looking for missing kittens and run-away bad guys. If you work at the Daily Planet, and are diagnosed with breast cancer when you're 30 that probably has been caused by Superman's radioactive stares, you have no legal recourse available to you. You can't sue Superman because you don't know his real identity, and he keeps his economic assets hidden from everyone, including the IRS. Where's the justice in that?

The American Way? There is nothing more patriotic than voting, and Superman's not even registered to vote! I don't know that he's ever taken a public position on the merits of capitalism versus communism, but it is noteworthy that he's never taken a dime for his services. He's accepted no corporate sponsorships, and he's never tried to cash in on his fame and powers. He seems to be the living embodiment of the Marxist motto, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." And while Superman does spend a lot of his time fighting extraterrestrials, it's worth noting that the person he spends the majority of his energies trying to bring down is a highly successful businessman who rose from poverty by using his genius, education, and good business sense to become one of the richest men in America. Also, Lex Luthor can show you his birth certificate.

But even more to the point: The premise of America is that the law treats everyone equally. The premise of Superman is that he has the power to be above the law. He uses his powers altruistically, it's true, but if you or I tried to fly a helicopter thirty feet above the main street of Metropolis, we'd have hell to pay with the FAA. Superman does it with impunity. If we tried to drive 80 on the freeway, we get a ticket. The classic Superman didn't even respect the speed limit set by light. If you or I crashed through a skyscraper window, we'd be expected to pay for damages. Superman either fixes things himself, an act of non-union labor performed without building permits or concern about building codes, or, if he does leave behind some sort of cash compensation for damages, the money is coming from unknown source that the IRS would probably really, really want to know about. The American Way is respect for the rule of law. Superman's way is, "I'll do what I want, because, hey, I'm Superman."

Supes, if you're saying adios to America, good riddance. Krypton must have known you'd grow up to be a hyper-violent nincompoop who'd wear his underwear outside his big boy pants when they shot you into space as a baby. Don't let the door snag your cape on the way out.