Yes, you read that headline right. And for most of us white, male, het, cis, privileged types, it sounds like, “Seeking a dental surgeon with the delirium tremens,” or “Nice shot, Haji, but I’m about two more yards to your right and you gotta remember to adjust for the wind.” (Apologies for the ethnic insensitivity in the preceding sentence; I should’ve expressed the distance in meters.)
So why am I, so much a part of an effete coterie of decreasing relevance in genre circles, asking to have his work excoriated by the New Guard? Let me take another shot of single-malt Scotch and I shall tell you.
(Drat! I dribbled a smidgeon on my Brooks Brothers argyle sweater-vest!)
First, I want the exposure. I don’t care if have a penis, wished you did, wished you didn’t, wished nobody did, or are quite happy without one thank you. I just want you to buy my book. Or at least talk about it. I don’t care what you say about it, as long as you say something. Then somebody else will buy it.
Second, I really think that Mighty Mighty passes some key shibboleths when it comes to appealing to the Millennium’s sensitivities. It certainly passes the Bechdel test. Don’t believe me? Here’s a conversation between two female characters:
“… So I guess that’s where the bad habits came from,” Tara confessed, lying down flat on the Audi’s back bench. “I never thought anyone recognized anything I did, so I stopped trying.”
“But as my powers faded away to nothing, yours just got stronger,” Flare Star observed. “And it’s a good thing they did.”
“Yeah,” Tara conceded. “Maybe when all this is over, I’ll give the hero thing another try.”
“You already have,” Flare Star replied. “But explain this to me: I get why you left The Crusaders. I can figure out why you went back for your Ph.D. But how did you end up working for UPS?”
“That’s the easy part,” Tara explained. “What else are you going to do with a doctorate in formal axiology?”
“I don’t know. What is formal axiology?”
“It’s the study of value. What – mathematically – makes something good.”
“As opposed to evil?” Flare Star asked.
“You make it sound like those are the only two choices.”
“Not by a long shot,” Tara said with a smirk. “Kevin and Elias got into this predicament while they were off hunting something chaotic, which doesn’t rise to the level of either good or evil.”
“So there are at least three choices.”
“More than that,” Tara explained. “You know what’s worse than evil?”
“Worse than evil? No. What?”
“Nihilism. The idea that nothing matters and all humanity’s efforts are wasted and worthless,” Tara summarized. “At least evil has a purpose. And at least chaos can give birth to order and, maybe, to good.”
“So given the choice …”
“Between evil and nothingness? Pick evil every time.”
That’s right. In my novel, I have two women discussing the mathematical underpinnings of the entire concept of ethics. Do you have that in yours? Purists will note that other characters, who happen to be male, are mentioned briefly in that exchange, but the discourse was clearly not about those male characters.
Nor is this the only example. Two of the villains are female, and I don’t think they discuss boys even once through the whole book — despite having started out as college roommates:
“So have you made up our mind yet, Equality?” Brigitte asked as she came in one afternoon with a reusable shopping bag filled with the makings of a salad-for-two. They often ate light dinners together in their room in the former Radcliffe dorms.
Equality was sitting on her yoga mat – which she also insisted on using as a bed – wearing a Guatemalan hemp hoodie and a pair of loose-fitting Capri pants she’d sewn together from home- spun and tie-dyed herself.
“Haven’t really thought about it,” Equality replied, then belched out a cloud of white smoke. “Where’s Phish playing this weekend?”
Brigitte consulted the concert schedule stapled – they couldn’t find magnets or scotch tape – to the refrigerator door.
“New York. The Garden.”
“Oh. I’ll drop by the drycleaner tomorrow, schedule a couple interviews in Manhattan and leave a day early,” Equality said as she began going through her warm-up stretches. “I guess I’ll just go and be an investment banker on Wall Street.”
“Don’t you love going to Harvard?”
I think that, if you read Mighty Mighty without preconceptions, you’ll find that it has a diversity of characters who are informed by, but not defined by, their sexuality, ethnicity, and class. Oh, and the action takes place over the course of 35 years and 120,000 words. Characters change, grow, learn more about each other and themselves. You might bristle when you’re first introduced to Myron Masters who, in the Mighty Mighty world, was the first African-American superhero. When he took up the mantle, he adopted the simplest, least confusing nom de guerre: Black Man. Yes, you’re supposed to squirm at that. It’s squirm humor (and if you realize he’s a send-up of Marvel’s Power Man, you’ll get the joke immediately). As the world becomes more inclusive and Myron ages out of the fight, we all discover what other abilities he has besides Being Black.
My last reason is this: personal growth. I’m from a small town that was sharply divided into white neighborhoods and a black ghetto. Then I went to college on Long Island, which back then could be as racist as anywhere in the South. The day of a young woman going to college strictly to “get her MRS” was on the wane, but far from over. And this was during the early days of AIDS — I had about a dozen LGBT friends back then, only one of whom dared be out. I didn’t have to deal diversity until I was in my late 20s and in an international program in grad school.
About ten years later, when I was first acting on my longstanding aspiration to be a science fiction novelist, I joined the Online Writers Workshop and posted in a chat my opinion at the time on the prevalence of gay characters in the magazines. I said something to the effect that, in a short story, if it doesn’t matter to the plot what a character’s orientation is, maybe you don’t need the gay sex scene, and maybe you don’t even have to identify the character as gay or straight or anything. That was followed by about twenty minutes of radio silence on the thread, then An Author Whose Works You’ve Read tore me a new orifice, and all her friends and fans piled on. (Years later I met her at a reading. She greeted me graciously with a hug and a peck on the cheek. I’m not sure if she even connected my name with my face, or had any recollection of the exchange. Anyway, there’s no lingering hard feelings on either side.) I had a lot to learn then. I’m sure I still do now. That’s why I want some honest opinions from sources I know won’t be saying nice things to me just to make me feel comfortable.
Here’s the pitch: If you have a review blog and a radical, black, feminist perspective, I would like to send you a free advanced reader’s copy of Mighty Mighty in PDF. Just send me a note at william_freedman [at] verizon [dot] net or a PM via Facebook. I will read your review and your readers’ comments with great interest. I promise not to be among those commenters. There will be no flame war — I surrender before the first shot. If I think you’re way off base, I’ll tell you so privately. Otherwise, I’ll keep my mouth shut and my finger off the SEND key.
One other stipulation: Try reading it for the entertainment value as well as the social commentary. It’s a satire. It’s supposed to be funny. I’m trusting in the radical, black, feminist sense of humor embodied by such comic geniuses as Wanda Sykes and … uh … um … all the rest.