City Wolf

I’ve always been interested in werewolves, so I thought I’d try my hand at writing a poem about one:

Running down the alley
Eyes bright, nose keen
Moonlight and streetlight shining down
The wind howling against you
Warm inside your fur
Every person you pass food/prey or friend/pack
Yet not knowing it
Then stepping through the door into the shop
Human again for a time

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BlackRabbit’s #CBR5 Review #7: Thunderer by Felix Gilman

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t read as much fantasy/scifi as I perhaps should. Maybe it’s a comfort thing; I stick with what I like, even though I always try to encourage others to experiment. Abraham Lincoln said “The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.” Thunderer is one of the few books I’ve picked up purely by impulse, not someone’s recommendation or a review I’ve read somewhere. New author, new story, new world, and I did not regret it.

The central setting of the book is a massive city called Ararat, a place so gigantic that whole neighborhoods are the size of small towns. Entire families and small empires might live and die in a single district, and the outer walls are not even a pondered legend. Into this endless place comes Arjun, a neophyte worshipper in search of his own god, which has recently abandoned its holy place. Ararat is said to be a city with endless beings, sometimes appearing in the streets, and he thinks he might find his own deity there. In the meantime, he supports himself by offering to map the city, a hopeless task which nevertheless gains him a shabby job. He’s brought something terrible with him into the city, however.

Another character is Jack Sheppard, an orphan boy who has decided to escape his poorhouse prison and use the power of a returning god, the great Bird, to do it. Harnessing the flight of the being to get out, he becomes a symbol of hope to the poorer citizens who are crushed under the heels of the city’s countless warlords. Another ambitious player is the Countess Ilona, who wants to capture the Bird’s power into a new weapon: an airship named the Thunderer.

All of these characters (and many more) are combined and set against each other in unexpected ways. The city itself is a character as much as any of them; the coming of both the Bird and Arjun change it in important ways, and not for the better. The massive size of Ararat is well-described and it made me dizzy to consider how suffocating it would be; not just the lack of freedom but the lack of the idea of life without walls and buildings. People are stamped and molded by not just the people who raise them but also the places they grow up in, and the people in the Endless City are no different.

It’s the simplest ideas that often make the best stories: last child of a doomed planet, the foppish playboy who’s secretly a vigilante, the good and evil of men made into human form and running amok. Thunderer isn’t a new concept on that scale, but it’s a new setting, and that’s sometimes all you need for a good story. Perhaps I should spend more time outside. Or at the bookstore.

What is CBR#5?

Someone reading my reviews might be puzzled as to why they’re titled “CBR 5”. I’m participating in the fifth year of Cannonball Read, in which a person will read and review as many books as they can in a given year. I opted for about 20 I think, since I’m quite fast and (sadly) have a lot of free time nowadays. It’s a great impetus to get my brain working and work under a deadline, even if it is self-imposed. I’d highly recommend anyone with an interest in writing to check it out.

BlackRabbit’s #CBR5 Review #6: It’s Superman by Tom De Haven

They say you can tell a lot about someone by the people around him. His friends, his family, his heroes and his enemies. To some extent, I feel the same might be true on a larger scale. America is a complicated and many times divided place. We’re a nation of immigrants and invaders who want to keep others out. We’re a nation “under God” where the line between church and state is (hopefully) sharply drawn, and yet the President and witnesses in court both take their oath on a Bible.

Superman has been one of the most popular, easily recognized and influential cultural icons in our history. The ultimate immigrant, a being with godlike power from humble beginnings. He’s the opposite of the bootstrapping climb to success that exemplifies the American Dream: he already has powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, so the real question is not how does he get stronger, but better.

De Haven sets his tale of Superman in the 1930’s. Smallville is a divided place, the nation is suffering through the Great Depression, and things are as hard and bleak as they ever are in our history. Clark Kent is a man with an itch to write and questions about his own awakening gifts. Lois Lane is an ambitious and fiery cub reporter looking for a good story. And charismatic, handsome young city councilman Lex Luthor has big plans for the future.

The backdrop feels so right for the characters that I’d suggest that this is how it should be-Superman fits in here better in some ways than the modern-day retellings of his story. You get to see how confronting the issues of 1930’s America changes and shapes him (in a curious parallel to Marvel’s Captain America) . Racism, violence, greed, friendship, growing up and romance all help make young Clark into the person he and the world will soon know. After all, you can’t stand for truth, justice and the American Dream without seeing them firsthand, and you can’t do that on a farm.

Superman has been accused of being stodgy, a Boy Scout and old-fashioned. The hero in It’s Superman squashes that nonsense. He is moral and upright because he has seen the consequences of violence and hatred and will have none of them. A section of the book deals with Clark’s travels across America and his letters home to his dad. The picture it paints of the young man is both touching, and at one point, frightening. Lois and Lex are different enough to be fresh imaginings of the characters while being true to the established canon without being predictable. There’s a supporting cast too, new faces mostly but well-sketched.

There was a point while reading it that the reader might even forget that Superman is a part of the story, since Clark is so well-written and the S-name isn’t even mentioned till the end. Then he comes up against Luthor’s brilliant scheme to dominate the world (as you know he will) and for just a moment John Williams’ score will probably kick on in your mind. I won’t spoil Lex’s plot, as it’s plausibly pulpy and yet fiendishly clever. Even if you don’t like Superman, this is a good enough story that it doesn’t matter; that aspect of Clark is woven so well that it feels natural and very unlike a comic book. It’s the story of a hero in America, not just an American hero.