Science-fiction, fantasy, and other stories

Author: Tim

Halloween / Castles in the Air, part 2

Hello

To new readers and old, Happy Halloween and welcome to Tim Allen Stories! This post features Castles in the Air, Part 2 of 3, a novella set in a faux-medieval, “Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser”-style fantasy/English cozy-style mystery. In short, it’s a story with a bit of something for everyone. 


(Introduction continues after Shortcuts)

Shortcuts


At this point I usually reflect on the process of writing the current post. Frankly, this post was both harder and easier to finish than I expected. The easy part was that I didn’t have to start from scratch because this novella is an update of one of my old stories. 

The hard part is that I should never have expected to write an update of an old story without being tempted to go off on interesting tangents. The “tangent” sections are few and seem necessary, but they took a long time to finish. (Not to mention the chores of daily living delaying things.)

All the same, I worked very hard to finish by an arbitrary deadline, apropos of nothing, of Halloween. However, I’ll save any insights gained from writing those tangents for a future post.

Let’s get on with today’s story.


Backstage

Maybe there really is something spooky about…(shudder!)…Halloween. This post was originally published 10/31/2023. You might have seen it then if you subscribe. 

This post should have been automatically backed-up Halloween night by my database provider. However, something went wrong and the entire post and backup disappeared! I’ve spent the last few days working with my database provider to restore the missing files and recreate this post. 

Hopefully, the ghosts won’t make this re-post…vanish.


Shout-Outs

Try Gene Ambaum’s Library Comic, a web comic about… libraries. Gene and a cadre of his favorite artists, such as Willow Payne (see the “About” page on his site), publish a humorous web comic that is ostensibly about libraries, but is as much about human nature as anything else.

Trust me. Try it. Have a laugh. Maybe discover a new book or some amazing merchandise. Check out Library Comic.

Library Comic is published twice a week, on Monday and Wednesday. Book reviews are also published twice a week, on Tuesday and Thursday.


Tell Your Friends

TimAllenStories.net
Tell your friends about it!
Then make new friends, and tell them!

Moebius Theater (paraphrased)

Subscribe for future posts


Head Games / Castles in the Air, part 1

Hello

To new visitors to Tim Allen Stories, welcome. And to returning visitors, welcome back!

In the afterword to my last post, I said that for this post I was thinking of doing a fantasy/mystery, and that the effort would take a while to complete. 

Wow, what an understatement!

(Introduction continues after Shortcuts)

Shortcuts


The story I decided to do is an update of a novella that I wrote several years ago called “Castles in the Air”. (Actually, I intended “Castles…” to be a short story instead of a novella, but you know me: I write “long”.)

My only copy of the story was a printout, so I had to transcribe it to electronic form first. And while I was at it, I’d fix a few minor issues that have been bothering me ever since I wrote the original version. However, what I didn’t expect to happen when I started making revisions, was how difficult emotionally it would be for me to finish.

The problem I encountered as I revised, was that I began to notice all the flaws and missed opportunities in the original story. And the more I began to fix flaws, the more the story bogged down and refused to be fixed. I soon found myself paralyzed with self-doubt. I mention this because you might have the same experience with your own writing.

It didn’t matter that I knew the original story was very well received by my old writing group, whom I trust. Or that I could equivocate and simply transcribe the original without fixes. I was still paralyzed by doubt, and it was getting worse. So, what was holding me back?

A few weeks ago, while I was still suffering from writer’s block, my wife and I attended a major, juried, regional art fair held annually in a well-to-do nearby town. Several hundred painters, sculptors, woodworkers, and textile artists from around the country attended. Many of the artists return year after year (except when there’s a pandemic and the fair is cancelled).

Although I can’t afford most of the art I saw, and my wife and I don’t know what to do with all the small pieces we’ve already accumulated, I do enjoy talking to some of the artists about their technique, process, and backgrounds. This is especially fun if my wife and I already own some of the artist’s more affordable work. And if possible, I try to offer something in return in the form of supporter feedback or news about artists who do related work.

While looking at the work of a world-traveling, large-format landscape photographer I’ve admired for the last few art fairs, I struck up a conversation. I told the photographer how much I enjoyed his art, and wondered how he handled the business side of art since I surmised his kind of photography is very expensive to produce. 

What the artist told me was that he had been doing this kind of art for only a few years. By trade, he had been in advertising and only got involved in photography as a hobby. But over time, he discovered how much he liked photography, and gradually gave up advertising.

He further went on to say his business expertise wasn’t that beneficial to his art business. What’s more important is that you’re passionate about your art. You’ll figure out the business side when you need to.

I was surprised. “Follow your passion” is a modern cliche, but I took it to mean, “Get out of your own head and do what’s important.” That advice seemed on-point since that’s what my best social and literary advisors were telling me repeatedly, and what my wife and friends were telling me delicately, not to mention what the latest philosophy floating in the zeitgeist was telling me. 

Well, even I couldn’t deny what everyone and everything in the zeitgeist was telling me, even if I couldn’t quite believe it. So, on blind faith I gritted my teeth and finished revising the first part of “Castles in the Air”. Since the story is novella-length, this post is only part 1 of 3. 

Now I have to get to work on parts 2 and 3 (although I don’t believe they’ll be as hard to do, and take as long to finish, as part 1). I hope you enjoy it.


Subscribe for future posts


Shout-Outs

Try Gene Ambaum’s Library Comic, a web comic about… libraries. Gene and a cadre of his favorite artists, such as Willow Payne (see the “About” page on his site), publish a humorous web comic that is ostensibly about libraries, but is as much about human nature as anything else.

Trust me. Try it. Have a laugh. Maybe discover a new book or some amazing merchandise. Check out Library Comic.

Library Comic is now published twice a week, on Monday and Wednesday. And  book reviews are also published twice a week, on Tuesday and Thursday!


Tell Your Friends

TimAllenStories.net
Tell your friends about it!
Then make new friends, and tell them!

Moebius Theater (paraphrased)

Other Stories / Glass Houses

Hello

In my last post, I said that the tag line for Tim Allen Stories is “Science-fiction, fantasy, and other stories,” and that this current post might feature an “other” story. Okay, that’s fine. But what, you might reasonably ask, is an other story?

There are many types of stories besides science-fiction and fantasy, including memoirs, essays, fables, vignettes, story fragments, reportage, and so on. “Other stories” can be any of those types and more. 

In a previous incarnation, I did a little reporting for The Chicago Defender, a mainstream daily newspaper in the Windy City; and many years later I did much more reporting for the Review, a quarterly community newspaper published in Seattle by the Phinney Neighborhood Center. The Phinney Center hosts a dizzying array  of activities, including community services, social and cultural events, farmers markets, amateur theatrical productions, fairs, seasonal get-togethers, annual house and garden tours, and a full roster of arts and crafts classes taught by knowledgeable volunteers.

For the Defender, I wrote a youth-oriented column about whatever interested me as a teenager. Most notably, I interviewed the stars of the latest rhythm-and-blues tour that was playing at the Regal Theater, one of the last movie palaces on the South Side of Chicago. The Regal usually showed movies, but it rolled up its silver screen so acts such as Motown’s touring R&B artists could put on a concert; that is, a stage show. The stage shows at the Regal featured acts like Ray Charles, Martha and the Vandellas, and “Little” Stevie Wonder (before he grew up and changed his billing to simply, Stevie Wonder).

For the Phinney Review, I wrote human interest stories promoting small businesses in the neighborhood. And at the Phinney Center itself, I profiled some of the interesting and accomplished volunteers teaching the various classes. I knew this small, neighborhood, quarterly didn’t do hard-hitting investigative journalism, but after a while I began to bemoan my stories as trivial puff pieces for struggling enterprises, some of whom might easily go out of business before their story was ever published. 

Even though a few of my neighbors mentioned they had read and enjoyed my stories, I began to feel my hard work was unseen and unappreciated. And make no mistake, reporting for even a small neighborhood newspaper is still hard work: People have to be interviewed, even if they’re reluctant or not forthcoming; their enterprise needs to be researched and their statements verified to the best of my ability; and then I have to interpret what they’ve said, and from that write a good story. 

I volunteered to report for the Review because they needed help, they deserved support, and I had the skills to do so. But more personally, and frankly selfishly, I volunteered because I needed a change of pace from my frequently dispiriting nine-to-five job. However, that positive change of pace was itself beginning to turn negative. It’s then that I realized I’d have to make my own salvation. 

The answer was simple: If I wanted to make each human interest assignment more engaging for both my readers and myself, then I needed to doggedly try to learn something new, unexpected, or interesting from each interview. What I learned would become the focus of my story.


Jewelers

At a jewelry store that had been located on Greenwood Avenue for decades, I learned that jewelers grade diamonds, such as the ones used for engagement and wedding rings, by the four C’s: cut, color, clarity, and carat weight. Ostentatious men like gamblers and wannabe rock stars might flaunt their wealth on their fingers and sometimes their smiles; while romantic young women who have long dreamed of being proposed to, might proudly wear a wedding ring. But even if a marriage should sadly fail, the jewelers could melt down the old ring, recut the diamond, and transform the old wedding ring into a new “divorce ring” that celebrates a new start on life.


Theater

At the Taproot Theater, a small legitimate theater converted from an old movie house, I found common ground with a reluctant artistic director by sharing my own minor experiences in theater. In return, he opened up and generously shared the inner workings of his theater, its history and lore, its backstage set production, and the underlying philosophy that sustained him and his fellow players in such a notoriously uncertain art.

At a class in the Phinney Neighborhood Center where an orchestra was rehearsing for an upcoming concert, I quietly sat in the back row behind a cellist. I had seen many concerts on radio and television, and attended a few symphonies from far away in the bargain seats I could afford as a student. But I had never sat so close to the musicians. 


Music

As the conductor raised her baton, and the cellist hunched over his instrument, I discovered what the cellist surely knew, but seldom had an occasion to tell others: The rich, deep notes of the cello slipped in between my ribs and resonated inside my ribcage like the sounding board of the cello itself. Suddenly I understood the intimate, visceral, almost living quality of the music that usually only musicians are privileged to experience.


Biography

In my interview with Charles R. Johnson, award-winning novelist for Middle Passage, and University of Washington English professor emeritus, I discovered his love of martial arts, literature, history, cartooning, screenwriting, and the same comic books I loved. I also learned of his association with the late martial artist, Bruce Lee; the very much alive film director, Spike Lee; and the conscience of America, the late Dr. Martin Luther King. 


Tragedy

When I was assigned to interview the leaders of a Balkan folk group composed of their teenaged children, I discovered that some stories can’t be written. The folk troupe had been created by their Croatian and Bosnian–Herzegovinian parents to teach their teenaged children about their two cultures’ similar but ethnically diverse music, folk costumes, musical instruments, and dances. More importantly, the group was meant to encourage its teenaged participants to be friends in America, in a way that might not have happened back in Croatia and Bosnia–Herzegovina. 

Miraculously, the parents’ plan worked. While their children practiced their music and dance, they inevitably became friends. That is, the plan worked until the Bosnian War broke out in 1992. Suddenly, the parents began to agonize about the fates of friends and family back in Bosnia until the pent up animosities they had suppressed for their children’s sake, began to boil over. In short order, teenagers who had been laughing and singing and dancing together a few weeks before, were now being told how untrustworthy were their friends and their families, and to not meet or associate with them in any way. 

By the time my interview with the adults was scheduled, the group’s meetings and rehearsals had been cancelled. When I spoke to one contingent of parents, all they wanted to do was inundate me with piles of newspaper clippings and documentation about Bosnia to prove that their side in the ongoing war was “right.” And when I tried to talk to the opposite contingent, who had decided their side was “right,” I discovered they had decided the best way to handle the press like me, perhaps the way they had done in their homeland, was to close ranks and say nothing at all. 

Without subjects to interview; and me feeling it was not my place be a conduit for propaganda, no matter how heartfelt; my editor and I concluded there was no story for me to write. Perhaps you’re thinking I could have written about the tragedy of friends and families being torn apart by a war happening 5,664 miles away from these hapless teenaged musicians and dancers. But a tragic story probably wasn’t appropriate for the Review. 

Or perhaps you’re thinking that the contingent that chose to remain silent had succeeded by quashing the story. Maybe so. But remember that the Review is a just a small, quarterly, neighborhood newspaper devoted mostly to announcing upcoming social events and arts and crafts classes. Nothing printed there would have affected the war. So, was it better for that second contingent to have said nothing? Or would it have been better for them to seek the support of the community they chose to live in by sharing their fears and points of view?


What I learned by writing all these articles is that everyone has a story. And that if you listen, you’re likely to discover something new, unexpected, and interesting.

Technically, I think my “other” story, Glass Houses, isn’t exactly a news story. It started out as a memoir, then evolved into journalism, and then finally settled down and became a travel story. Glass Houses was something of an experiment for me. See the story’s Foreword and Afterword to discover the experiment’s lab conditions and results.


Welcome Back & Peter Pan


Hello

Welcome back to Tim Allen Stories. I hope you and yours enjoyed the holiday break!

In my last post, Ornaments: Butler & Mouse / Gray & Santa Claus, in the foreword to the story, “Coca-Cola Santa Claus,” I related how author Spalding Gray referred to his recalcitrant unfinished novel as a “Monster in a Box.” I also said I suspected Gray wasn’t much different from any other author who has been writing for years: We all have a metaphorical, or perhaps real, box of unfinished or unpublished stories. Today, I’m posting one of my “monsters.”

The slug line for Tim Allen Stories says, “Science-fiction, fantasy, and other stories.” So far, I’ve posted a lot of science-fiction. Consequently, I’m changing things up and posting a fantasy—sort of.

I’ll explain what I mean, and the source of my ambivalence, in the foreword to “Peter Pan.”


Backstage

As the need arises, I’ll occasionally include a “Backstage” section to announce changes to this website that might affect your reading experience.


After my last post, an old friend left a comment just to say, “Hello.” What a delight to hear from him! My friend is an immensely talented and inspiring published author, who regrettably doesn’t do much writing nowadays because he’s too busy pursuing other projects. 

However, my friend mentioned he still had trouble quickly finding my old posts. For that reason, I’ve added a permanent “Shortcuts” section to my introduction. I’ll keep an eye out to see if that solves the discovery problem.


Up until now I’ve been trying to keep the cadence of my posts to about once a month. But the time it took to prepare my last post proved to me that I need to slow my cadence to about once every two or more months. 

The primary reason for slowing down the pace of my posts is to allow me time to write new stories. Everything I’ve posted so far has been sitting in completed form in my “trunk” of stories. From here on, I’ll need to transcribe print outs of old stories to electronic form; and/or edit old stories for modern times; or write new stories.

No matter how you look at it, I’m going to need more time to prepare posts.

In addition to my writing environment changing, my personal commitments are evolving. I’ve all but completed a years-long family project, which means I should have more time to myself. However, the disruption and isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic is nearly over, which means we all should devote more time to putting our lives back in order and setting new goals.

Time is literally of the essence.


Shout-Out 

Try Gene Ambaum’s Library Comic, a web comic about… libraries. Gene and a cadre of his favorite artists, such as Willow Payne (see the “About” page on his site), publish a daily, humorous web comic that is ostensibly about libraries, but is as much about human nature as anything else.

Trust me. Try it. Have a laugh. Maybe discover a new book or some amazing merchandise. Check out Library Comic.


Tell Your Friends

TimAllenStories.net
Tell your friends about it!
Then make new friends, and tell them!

Moebius Theater (paraphrased)

Shortcuts

Preface to main story: Foreword for “Peter Pan”

Main story: Peter Pan

List of previous posts: Posts

This site automatically aggregates previews and links to previous posts in a Posts page. Other links to the Posts page are created in the POSTS menu item of the menu under this site’s title, and in an optional sidebar. Whether the menu is displayed in a menu bar or a hamburger control, and whether a sidebar is displayed, is determined by whether you’re viewing this site on a smart phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer.


Ornaments: Butler & Mouse / Gray & Santa Claus


Hello

Last post, I said that I’d have to decide whether this post would be a flash fiction story, or a seasonal story. Although each story is quite different from the other, their backgrounds have something in common.

My problem was that the flash fiction story, Mouse, was long enough for a post, but didn’t seem appropriate for the holiday season. On the other hand, the seasonal story, Coca-Cola Santa Claus, was appropriate for this time of year, but didn’t seem long enough to warrant its own post. 

The solution to my dilemma is simple: I’m posting both stories, making this my first double-issue post! Whoopee! This post is for December 2022 and January 2023, and the next post will be for February 2023.


Backstage

As the need arises, I’ll occasionally include a “Backstage” section to announce changes to this website that might affect your reading experience. This seems reasonable since I’m learning more about how to manage this website with each post.

This site is built using WordPress software, which by default presents either a fixed home page, or a constantly changing latest post. I originally opted for the latest post, but changed to a fixed home page so new readers could easily orient themselves and navigate to the story they wanted to read. However, I recently spoke to an associate who said he had glanced at my website not too long ago and wondered if I had posted anything new.

Had I posted anything new? Of course I had! How was that not obvious to him?

I think my associate’s problem was that like most returning readers, he wanted to see the latest post first, not the unchanging “Welcome” page. That is, only new readers need orientation. I also hope that returning readers will tell their friends about this website, and the number of returning readers will grow over time. For that reason, I’m switching back to the latest-post-first option, and will make a few other cosmetic changes to tie everything together.

Finally, I’m adding more or less permanent “shout-out” and “tell your friends” sections, which look like the following:


Shout-Out

Try Gene Ambaum’s Library Comic, a web comic about… libraries. Gene and a cadre of his favorite artists, such as Willow Payne (see the “About” page on his site), publish a daily, humorous web comic that is ostensibly about libraries, but is as much about human nature as anything else.

Trust me. Try it. Have a laugh. Maybe discover a new book or some amazing merchandise. Check out Library Comic.


Tell Your Friends

TimAllenStories.net
Tell your friends about it!
Then make new friends, and tell them!

Moebius Theater (paraphrased)

The Journey So Far, vol. 1 / Panthers

Tim Allen Stories is mostly about learning to be a better storyteller. So, rather than post a new story, I thought I should pause and share some of the lessons I’ve learned so far from posting the last four stories. Literary teachers say the important properties of a story are its setting, characters, conflict, plot, resolution, and outcome. And since I plan to post more stories, I would periodically pause to compare them as well. Reviewing your own work and comparing it to the works of others, be they good or bad, is one of the best ways to put your own work in perspective, as well as learn from the practices of others. I planned to title this series of posts, “The Journey So Far, vol. …”

Well, that was the plan. 

I started preparing this post about a week before I intended to post it. I thought it would be easy; something I could do quickly. Admittedly, I’d have to write something new instead of publishing an existing story, but I had a handle on the problem and thought it wouldn’t require too much thought and reflection to complete. Well, I’m already three weeks past my self-imposed deadline, nowhere near being finished, and getting farther nowhere fast. I’ll talk to my psychiatrist about what’s taking me so long, but meanwhile, I need a new plan.

Since I can’t finish the current post, and since it’s almost time to start preparing the next, I think I’ll blend the two. For now, I’ll do a partial review of previous work, as well as publish the short story I intended to post next. 


Shout-out

Before I do anything else, let me make a shout-out to Gene Ambaum, who has been so helpful in getting this site launched. Gene is the creator, writer, book reviewer, and creative marketing force behind Library Comic.

Gene and a cadre of his favorite artists, such as Willow Payne (see the “About” page  on his site), publish a daily, humorous web comic that is ostensibly about libraries, but is as much about human nature as anything else. 

Since Gene and I both know the readership of Tim Allen Stories will be exceedingly small, Gene has generously added a link under his banner head from his site to mine. And for that, I’m grateful.

I’ve known Gene for years—I even “officiated” at his wedding—and he’s one of the most level-headed, goodhearted, adventurous, and well read people I know. However, be forewarned that his sense of humor is sometimes a bit, shall we say…off-kilter? For example, when asked to describe his web site, he said as seriously as the grave, and with only a tiny twinkle in his eye, “Library Comic? A comic about… libraries.”

Trust me. Try it. Have a laugh. Maybe discover a new book. Check out Library Comic.

(Hot off the presses! Regarding marketing, check out Gene’s new (October 2022) Kickstarter for his “Badass Patches”. Sew the patches on garments, backpacks, or whatever, and show your “badass” love of books.)


The Last Lesser Hero / Aquaman

Foreword

The Last (for now) Lesser Hero

Aquaman and the Sea Devils is the last installment of a trilogy of original, non-graphic novel stories inspired by interesting—but flawed—characters from the Silver Age of comics. Characters whom I call Lesser Heroes. 

Unlike most Lesser Heroes who were created in the Golden Age of comics and then reimagined and updated as essentially new characters in the Silver Age, Aquaman has been published without interruption in one magazine or another since its debut in More Fun Comics #73 (1941), one of the ancestors of DC Comics. According to Wikipedia, Aquaman’s creators, editor Mort Weisinger and artist Paul Norris, were inspired by Marvel Comic’s Namor, the Sub-Mariner, who was introduced in Marvel Comics #1 (1939)

Since his introduction, Aquaman received incremental changes to his backstory, powers, and supporting characters until he received a more thorough revision in the Silver Age Adventure Comics #260 (1959). Since then, Aquaman has received additional or short-term changes, such as new powers, weapons, and even two teenaged sidekicks both named Aqualad. 

The Silver Age Aquaman is a merman, the hybrid offspring of his human father, Tom Curry, and his humanlike, water-breathing mother, Atlanna, an outcast from the lost underwater city of Atlantis. His parents named their child Arthur Curry, who is frequently referred to by the sobriquet, “Sea King,” or occasionally when traveling incognito, the alias, “C. King.” 

Arthur appears to be Caucasian with short, blonde hair and the DC Comics-patented perpetual, wide, ivory smile. His original costume was a shirt of gold scale mail, forearm-length green gloves, a thin belt with a stylized letter “A” for a buckle, and waist-to-foot green leggings with a cool fin on the back of each calf. Aquaman can breathe underwater; swim at incredible speeds and in crushing depths; has moderate super-strength; and most dramatically, can telepathically communicate with and control marine life. 

Although Aquaman has superpowers, his abilities have long been considered impractical, weak, and almost laughable when compared to other superheroes. This character has been the butt of many jokes and comedy bits, including skits on TV’s Saturday Night Live, and a long-running gag and comedic plot line on cable’s Entourage. This is the version of the character that I grew up with.

In recent years, DC Comics has sought to revamp Aquaman into a darker, moodier, and edgier character, but at the price of immensely complicating and confusing his backstory. DC has given him new costumes; a beard and short or moderate or long hair that trails in the water like seagrass; a mystical trident with immense powers over the sea; and even cut off his left hand to replace it in turn with two types of harpoon, and then a magical watery hand, until his flesh-and-blood hand was finally restored to normal. Fortunately, Jason Momoa’s virile portrayal of this Lesser Hero in the Aquaman (2018) superhero adventure movie has gone a long way toward earning the character newfound respect.

The Sea Devils are a team of ordinary, human, scuba divers and undersea adventurers. They debuted in Showcase #27 (1960), and were created by writer Robert Kanigher and artist Russ Heath. There have been a few other ordinary seafaring adventurers in comics, but TV’s Sea Hunt (1958) starring Lloyd Bridges as former Navy diver Mike Nelson, greatly popularized the idea of frogmen as heroes. 

Despite having no superpowers, other than extreme bravery and being excellent swimmers who dressed in spiffy, wine-red drysuits, the Sea Devils somehow managed in each issue to confront terrifying foes including gargantuan eels, octopuses, and sea-horses; giant mythological sea gods; and colossal aquatic aliens from outer space. (You may notice a theme going on here: Judging by each issue’s cover, every threat in the ocean is either huge, immense, or gigantic. I suspect that for each issue of the Sea Devils, Kanigher wrote a fantastical story that required the depiction of a gigantic oversized threat on the cover. However, Heath’s extraordinary draftsmanship guaranteed it was always a beautifully drawn gigantic oversized threat.)

I don’t recall any noteworthy or memorable stories in either Aquaman or the Sea Devils (as opposed to, let’s say, the Challengers of the Unknown in Showcase #11 (1957), “The Day the Earth Blew Up!”). Like most comics, the heroes and villains looked astonishing and their perils were extraordinary, but their stories became lackluster and repetitive. 

Well, Tim Allen Stories is about trying to be a better storyteller, so there are no astonishing drawings of extraordinary peril. Instead, I’ll try to create an astonishing tale; and while I’m at it, provide an extraordinary peril too.

My influences for this story are the original Aquaman and Sea Devils comic books; my What-Little-Girls-Are-Made-Of universe; Arthur C. Clarke’s science-fiction novel, Childhood’s End (1953); TV’s seaQuest DSV (1993) ; and perhaps surprisingly, the comedy film, Auntie Mame (1958).


Why are the Lesser Heroes “Appalling”? / Ranger

Why…?

The common subtitle for my Lesser Heroes stories is, “Original stories inspired by appalling tales from the Silver Age of Comics.” But why do I say these stories are “appalling”? And why, amongst many contenders, is the Space Ranger arguably the most deplorable? Well, there’s a story that goes with the answer to those questions.

Legend has it that DC comics editorial director, Irwin Donenfeld, asked editors Jack Schiff and Julius Schwartz to create two new science-fiction based heroes, one of whose adventures would be set in the present, and the other’s would be set in the future. Given first choice, Schiff chose the hero based in the future. Poor Julie Schwartz had to settle for the present (which forced him to ultimately create the cool, award-winning, quick-witted greater hero, Adam Strange).

And although I don’t know it for a fact, but can only judge from the final result, Donenfeld might have added, “By the way, Jack, don’t spend too much time and effort dreaming up this new character. Tell you what. Why don’t you take an already popular hero from TV, radio, or the newspaper comic strips and, shall we say, ’adapt’ him to your new title? I know! You can take the Lone Ranger; put him in the future; in outer space; with a rocket ship, and a spacesuit, and some sort of ray-gun that can do practically anything; and call him… call him…let’s come up with something original here…I’ve got it!…The Space Ranger.

In the comic book industry of the time, just like the jokes stolen again and again by vaudeville comedians, the idea of plagiarism was just a highfalutin notion.

The writers and artists who created Space Ranger had excellent reputations and long strings of previous successes. But something went bizarrely off-kilter with the Space Ranger from the very beginning, in my opinion. Their costume and character designs were barely passable. Some character illustrations were incongruously cartoonish; while others had amateurish anatomy and stock fearful expressions and poses; and the remainder were sometimes drawn in blotchy, blocky chiaroscuro. 

The stories were ridiculously melodramatic, even by a little kid’s standards, and the cultural stereotypes of humans and aliens alike were insulting in a way that uniquely branded the DC comics of the time. 

I don’t think most creators intentionally do bad work, and I have consciously considered giving the Space Ranger’s artists and writers the benefit of the doubt. I don’t know what kind of pressure they were under in those days. Perhaps they were trying to put food on their family’s table and they couldn’t afford to displease their bosses by spending more time doing better work. Perhaps they resented being forced to plagiarize a well-known idea and conspired to do mediocre work in hopes of ruining sales and coaxing DC to cancel the series. 

Arguably, it might be unfair to judge the work of those creators then, by my standards today. But it’s still hard to excuse them when, in an already unbelievable and clichéd depiction of green-skinned aliens with bird-beaked faces living on a moon of Saturn, they go on to culturally misappropriate the worst parts of old-fashioned, black-and-white cowboy movies by depicting the aliens as wearing Native American feathered bonnets, loin cloths, and fringed buckskin pants while threatening the hero with vaguely futuristic tomahawks and bows and arrows. I realize the incongruity of that image is supposed to draw the reader in; but it, like so many aspects of this and other Lesser Heroes, is so appalling that it sabotages the intent.

Despite all of the above, there’s still a faint spark of something fun and worthwhile in the Space Ranger that possibly could be fanned into a flame, if only we try. Let’s see if the following story can do better.


Lesser Heroes / Tomorrow

Series Introduction: Who are the “Lesser Heroes”?

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I’m a longtime comic book fan. My fondness for comics isn’t really so surprising when you consider how I voraciously read through the science-fiction, fantasy, and art collection at my local public library branch. As a young kid, or so I remember, I even stretched out on my belly on the living room rug, pushed my near-sighted eyes up close to the pages, and in one long sitting read all of Jules Verne’s Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

When I was a littler older, I reveled in the four-color Sunday newspaper comics strips. I was delighted by everything from the highly stylized, now quaint, adventures of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, to the droll and eerily prescient political satire of Walt Kelly’s Pogo. In the meantime, I was peeking at and coveting my brother’s collection of comic books, many of which were offbeat and long out of print. 

My adolescence ranged partly from 1956 to circa 1970. During that time, National Periodicals-Detective Comics, which later became DC Comics, bought out or outsold its rivals and ultimately monopolized the comics trade. DC had many “great” heroes and longtime best-sellers like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. But by the 1950s, even DC’s sales were starting to falter. As a remedy, DC started one of my favorite, but now nearly forgotten titles: Showcase magazine. 

Showcase, and its occasional sister titles such as The Brave and the Bold, was a low risk way of introducing trial versions of new superheroes without the danger of putting them in their own ongoing title, only to discover that readers rejected them and gave their title the cold shoulder. Furthermore, Showcase pioneered reimagining and reinventing old, outdated, and defunct titles from the 1940s, and giving current readers new, updated, and exciting versions of those heroes. 

Showcase introduced modern versions of “great” characters such as The Flash, Green Lantern, The Atom, and many more. These characters ushered in what is called The Silver Age of Comic Books, which coincided with my adolescence. Summarizing the lessons of expert writing teachers, the Silver Age books had relatable, more than one-dimensional characters; origin stories grounded in reasonably credible science-fiction instead of the ludicrous magical or pseudo-scientific creation myths of the 1940s; and modern plots with an interesting antagonist, conflict, and climax. 

More than anything else, though, Showcase was great fun! It was fun because after showing us the way, we readers could also dream of reimagining and reinventing great heroes of our own. And trust me, there were many DC Comics heroes to fix! Heroes who didn’t have a credible origin; who didn’t have engaging plots; whose premise wasn’t diverse or inclusive, or was just plain too insulting to be stomached by modern readers who had already witnessed too much of the world’s inequities. 

So, what do I call those heroes who weren’t great? How about…”Lesser Heroes”?

Tim Allen Stories is my way of experimenting with how to tell a good yarn. I intend to post three short-to-novella-length stories based on one or more Lesser Heroes that I’ve reimagined and reinvented as my own character. If all goes well, each story will be better than the last.

The rules of my game are these: (1) I can take inspiration from, but will make every effort not to infringe on, copyrighted intellectual property as defined by the U. S. Copyright Office. That is, I’m free to use series titles, character names, and any special powers or abilities a character might have. (2) I can take inspiration from a Lesser Hero’s appearance in any media, such as movies or TV, but of course, not the copyrighted expression of that character in the medium. (3) I can embellish my stories with real-world science, history, myth, and media. And (4), I can freely use ideas from original story I’ve already written and own, such as the What-Little-Girls-Are-Made-Of universe, being careful not to mix my ideas with copyrighted intellectual property. 

Hopefully, I’ll learn something about writing a good story in the process. Hopefully, I’ll reimagine and reinvent something new, entertaining, and better. And hopefully, I’ll redeem one more…Lesser Hero.


“What Little Girls Are Made Of” Excerpt


Foreword

This excerpt is from a science-fiction novel I’m revising and is complete in two parts, divided into several long pages. It is set in what I’m currently calling the What-Little-Girls-Are-Made-Of Universe (more about that in a future post). A science-fiction story’s setting is critically important, but the more dazzling it is, the more the setting can blind the reader to the humanity of the story’s characters. 

In this excerpt, the setting is a few centuries in the future; energy is cheap and boundless; computers and artificial intelligences are discreetly ubiquitous; swarms of industrial robots build enormous structures; and a purportedly lucky discovery evades the speed limit of light and enables exploration of distant worlds. However, if you ignore these superficialities, you will see that people still behave like people. Or if you prefer, if people from a few centuries ago were able to observe you and your world, they would still recognize your humanity even though your technology would be complete mystery.

However, there is still one more superficiality to consider, one more tiny thing: Some people are psychic; that is, some people are powerful mind readers, fortune tellers, mediums, movers from a distance, and… more.


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