Lela E. Buis Reviews “An Unimaginable Light”

She liked it.

This is the first Hugo-related review I’ve seen of any of the book’s stories. Lela Buis also has her own story in “Tales of the Once and Future King”, and I think I can confidently state that it’s one of my favorites in the book.

Money quote:

Pros: John C. Wright is actually an awesome writer. The number of levels this story works on is pretty amazing. 1) It invokes the Inquisition, i.e. the uppity, beautiful woman accused as a witch and the powerful, degenerate man questioning her. 2) It pays homage to the Asimov robot stories, referring to the Three Laws and similar philosophical issues. 3) It outlines questions in the dialog that fall out from the current conflict between conservative and neo-left politics. 3) It’s pretty erotic. Wright doesn’t fall short on the character descriptions, and the BDSM elements are obvious.

Three and a half stars.

(Note: There are no rape scenes and no actual sex is portrayed, for those who aren’t fans of that sort of thing, such as myself.)

I did respond to something she mentioned in her review in the comments section. For the curious:

Hello Lela! Anthony here.

A note: God, Robot was marketed by Castalia as a superversive anthology because of the authors involved, but when I came up with the idea I wasn’t soliciting only superversive stories. It just happened to turn out that way. Vox himself also has a very creepy story in it.

Your criticisms are fair, and I’m glad you did like it.

The follow-up by Josh Young I think does a lot to put the story in context.

Lela also has one of my favorite stories in “Tales of the Once and Future King”, so you guys should look out for that.

And if you want to know what all the fuss is about, pick up “God, Robot” today!

Marvel 1602 and the Wet Fish Slap Redux

Mike Glyer of File 770 linked to my post “Marvel: 1602 and the Wet Fish Slap”. Against my better judgment I ended up responding to some folks in the comments section who – naturally – disagreed with me.

Worth noting: Despite the fact that I specifically attempted to be polite and tried to make my case as clearly and coherently as I could, my showing up to defend myself seemed to make people much angrier.

The original posts are on the thread; here were my responses:

[From the commenter] Has it never occurred to you that one of Gaiman’s characters happened to be gay simply because a significant percentage of the human population is gay, and Gaiman wrote his story to reflect the actual human population?

No. I’m sure that it didn’t. ?

Despite the monster under the bed stories you might have heard, I was indeed not so blinded by my hatred of the gay population nor my rage at Neil Gaiman to neglect to consider this possibility. After I calmed down from my Smaug-like wrath caused by catching sight of a gay guy in the comics, I did try to think of why.

Here’s the thing: This is not a red-headed scenario, or a blue-eyed scenario.

This was obviously structured near the end of the book as a dramatic reveal. Gaiman clearly considered it significant that Angel was gay. This was a fact about him that *mattered* – not to me, mind. To him. Gaiman.

And – people seem to want to ignore this, but it bears repeating – telling Cyclops made no sense. None. Angel is even offered an opportunity, sitting right in front of him, both to keep his secret and keep Cyclops off his back…and instead he reveals his deepest secret, a secret that in 1602 could potentially be enough to get him ostracized or blackballed from his new community, to the one guy who is *most likely* to want to use it to hurt him.

There was NO REASON AT ALL FOR THIS.

And finally – Angel was not gay in the original X-Men comics. Gaiman changed it. While other updates for characters make at least some sense, it does seem rather difficult to find the connection between being born in 1602 and being gay.

To pretend that adding this in doesn’t spark any sort of questions, isn’t meant to make any sort of point, even though he actually changed a character’s sexuality around specifically to wring out this particular scene, which doesn’t need to exist at all…

…Well, maybe Neil said “Hold on guys, there are no gay guys here! I better try to represent, you know, just for realism”.

Or maybe had a reason in mind when he made the change.

And even THAT doesn’t necessarily harm the narrative, but he handled it in such an incredibly poor, ham-fisted way I couldn’t believe it.

So he doesn’t get a pass from me. I’ll let others decide if it’s my horrible right-wing bigotry informing my opinion or not.

[A commenter] Speaking as a visitor from the 17th Century, I am profoundly grateful to such among your pamphleteers who employ empty inkhorn terms, as “virtue-signalling” and “box-checking”; it is a way of informing this reader that he careth less about the story he revieweth, than he doth making himself look good to rattle-pated, clotpole knaves and boobies.

*Sigh* I sent off my last comment, saw this one, and decided to write this up quick before I left; as I add this section in via edits, one other person has already come in to ignore everything I’ve said (for example, I didn’t say the presence of a gay character was unrealistic, I said it was stupid for a gay character in the year 1602 to out himself to somebody he already knows has a reason to dislike him) and accuse me of being a bigot in as many words. Good stuff.

I didn’t use the phrase box-checking, Mike [Glyer] did.

I did indeed use the phrase virtue signalling, but again, everybody has gotten worked up as if I threw out that word and then neglected the rest of my case, which is simply not true at all.

Now I’m certainly open to the possibility that I was only seeing what I wanted to see because I have such a reflexive disgust and revulsion towards gays, subconscious though it may be.

But nobody seems interested in actually responding to what I really said, but they sure are interested in announcing how they aren’t interested in what I want to say. The one person who tried to respond to me so far twisted the point I made so thoroughly I find it hard to believe he was making a good faith effort.

And NOW I’m gone.

“Tales of the Once and Future King”: A Sneak Peek

This scene is from the frame story of the anthology/novel “Tales of the Once and Future King”, which will be released within the coming months. This scene takes place near the end of the book, when our stalwart heroes are on the run from the villains. Gavin Erewood is the only man standing between them and a horrible grave.

Gavin rose from the dust and dirt with an unholy scream of rage. Gavin was a patient man, but it was still no picnic to sit alone all day baking in the sun while everybody else performed their tasks in the village, and the opportunity for action was a release.

The first arrow he fired whipped through the chariot’s wheels. Bennett’s ingenious system of knots caught between the spokes and sent the chariot tumbling down. The one behind it was forced to swerve out of the way, tilted precariously, and followed its brother into the ground.

The final group of charioteers paid more attention and managed to avoid the pile, but a second arrow did its job. In less than a minute, all three chariots were smashed.

Most of the soldiers were too dazed, or too injured, to move. One managed to turn in Gavin’s direction. He had just enough time to give a yell and rush forward before an arrow hit him in the shoulder, causing him to collapse in pain.

The other soldiers had the good sense to simply flee. Only two managed to keep their wits and courage about them. One of them, who appeared to have a sling on his left arm, amazingly managed to mount one of the horses bareback and go off galloping towards the wagon. Gavin fired an arrow, but it was too late. The rider was long gone, and Gavin had bigger problems.

One last man remained after the crash, and Gavin recognized him immediately from Brand’s description: Count Dima. His face was contorted with anger. He pulled out a sword from a scabbard at his side and started walking slowly into Gavin’s direction.

Gavin hit him with an arrow directly in the chest, sure that the shot was fatal. Dima stumbled back a half step, grimaced in pain, and ripped the arrow out. Gavin fired again and again, wasting his last two arrows, but each time Dima simply ripped them for his flesh.

He sped up as he walked. “Foolish boy! You think your arrows can kill me? You think me a mortal man? I am not! I am darkness!” His face started to contort, the color rushing away until he was as pale as a corpse. “I am your nightmare!” He jerked his head to the side as fangs started forming in his mouth. “I am death itself!

Gavin remembered Fox’s warning from the forest: Vampires. He started hyperventilating. He wanted to run but found himself unable to get his feet to do more than stumble backward. His mind flashed to another day, years ago, an army of undead soldiers bearing down on him and his friends, transforming into flying, bloodthirsty monsters, scratching and biting…

He forced himself to calm down and look around. One of the horses had wandered off after the crash and was only a few yards away. Perhaps he could make it and take off before the night fell and the vampire got the ability to transform. The sun was already getting low in the sky, and Dima was only feet away.

Dima noticed him glance at the horse and gave a terrible smile. “Do you wish to try and run, coward? Oh, don’t think I don’t know who you are. You are the coward knight. The knight who ran. Well, run again! Perhaps you’ll make it. Perhaps not. But the night is almost here. Your friends will die either way!”

It was the vampire’s first mistake. Gavin thought back to that terrible night, many years ago, the day he abandoned his friend. He thought of Lance, finding him in the Scottish highlands and nursing him back to health, and of Fox’s address to him in the forest: Sir Gavin.

Gavin turned towards the vampire and stood up straight. He drew a short knife from his side. He knew he couldn’t kill Dima, but perhaps he could slow him down. “I am Sir Gavin Erewood,” he said, more confident than he really felt. “I am a Knight of Avalon, servant to the Pendragon of Britain. And I do not abandon my friends. Make your stand here, monster.”

Dima’s smile grew wider. “With pleasure.” He rushed towards Gavin with inhuman speed, mouth opened impossibly wide, snarling like an animal. Gavin waited until the last possible second then turned to the side, slashing outward with his knife. Despite his desperate gambit, Dima’s sword managed to slice him across the chest: Not a deep blow, but a painful one. Gavin cried out; blood spilled onto the dry earth.

And time froze.

…To find out what happens next, keep and eye out for “Tales of the Once and Future King”, coming soon!

“Marvel: 1602” and the Wet Fish Slap

Recently I was at the library and a book caught my eye: “Marvel: 1602”. I went over and looked at the back cover. It looked fantastic! It was a story set in a re-imagined version of the Marvel universe set in 1602 Europe and America. How cool is that? And it was written by Neil Gaiman who, hey, is known to be a pretty excellent comic book writer at least, right?

So of course I picked it up.

The book was awesome! It was everything I could have hoped for. The story was interesting. The 1602 “updates” of the characters were clever. Gaiman didn’t just use the setting as a backdrop but actually made it an integral part of the comic. It was great!

I particularly liked Gaiman’s version of Daredevil, always a favorite of mine. Normally I would have been annoyed at how different this version of the character was from his current incarnation, but after learning about Daredevil’s original pre-noir personality I realized that Gaiman’s Daredevil was actually a really entertaining version of that character, and I enjoyed it immensely.

And yet…

Much like with “Stardust”, Gaiman simply can’t seem to help messing up otherwise excellent stories with moments that slap you across the face like a dead fish.

Throughout the book young Jean Grey, a powerful mutant (called Witchbreed in Marvel: 1602), is disguised as a boy and is used to help power a ship through the water and air. One character (I wasn’t even sure who he was an update of…the obvious choice is Wolverine but he appeared to already be a part of the story in another form)  seems to have taken a liking to Jean…but he didn’t realize Jean was actually a girl.

Near the end of the book – I will spoil this, because it made me REALLY mad – Jean dies. Not the bad part.

The bad part is that later, Cyclops, who was in love with Jean, apologizes to the aforementioned character; he thought he had a crush on Jean, and didn’t realize that he still believed she was a boy the whole time.

…And then he reveals that he DID have a crush on Jean. Jean as a boy. He was gay.

And, for absolutely no reason, when he is offered an out, a way to keep it hidden, he tells Cyclops this.

Cyclops, who he knows already didn’t like him because of his crush on Jean.

And he tells Cyclops this in the year 1602, you know, that most progressive of time periods, where outing yourself as a homosexual to somebody who doesn’t like you was certainly a wise thing to do and would lead to no negative consequences at all, right?

And the worst part? There was no reason for it. It added nothing – nothing – to the story. Why can’t he have known Jean was a girl and had a crush on her, but was too shy to tell her? Or too afraid that Cyclops would be angry at him? Or simply been upset because Jean was his friend?

Or even, if you are really, really incapable of not virtue signaling, if it’s truly so very important to you that people know you’re Totally Not Homophobic, why on earth would you have this character tell Cyclops he’s gay?

It was stupid, it was pointless, and it was insulting that Gaiman decided to make his story worse in order to tell the world that he was Totally Cool With Being Gay. It was a way of telling the reader that he cared less about them than about making himself look good to the right people.

And it’s such a shame, because it’s such a great story otherwise! It was creative, it was fun, it was interesting.

But Gaiman just can’t seem to help himself from delivering that wet fish slap at least once.

And people are getting tired of it.

“Sword and Flower” and Superversive Categories

First things first: I’m not trying to pick on “Sword and Flower”. I didn’t hate it, I think Rawle has potential, and I think he was definitely going for something in the superversive range even if he didn’t hit the mark.

But the discussion by the pulp revolutionaries afterward is helpful in the sense that it helps clarify what we mean by superversive. I honestly didn’t realize there was so much confusion surrounding the concept, and this is as good an opportunity as any to clear things up.

Corey McCleery, author of the popular serialized novel “Fever Blood” on Wattpad and a regular columnist here (as well as a fellow Whippersnapper co-host), recently listed the five main categories of “basic” superversion (we’ll discuss what it means to be “noumenal” superversive later).

There was some shock and confusion expressed that I considered “Daredevil” superversive,  but not “Sword and Flower” (at least, I considered “Daredevil” more superversive).  I do stand by that, and to see why, let’s go through the five categories.

Before I start, it’s important to note that there are degrees of superversion, that is, it’s perfectly reasonable to talk of something being more or less superversive than another thing.

It’s also important – maybe even critical – to note that this isn’t a science. Much like with pulp, part of the qualifying criteria of superversive is that you know it when you see it. This doesn’t mean superversion doesn’t exist, but it does mean that if a work meets this criteria in a technical sense but just…doesn’t seem to “work” as a counter to subversion, so to speak, points are at least going to get knocked off on the sliding scale of superversion, you know?

And without further ado:

Aspiring/Inspiring – These mean that the characters aspire to something greater than themselves, and inspire others to seek greatness, and not remain where they are.

In “Sword and Flower”, there are hints of this, but they’re not very strong. What should have been the obvious turning point of Dimity’s character arc comes after she kills a powerful demon and is, to her surprise, rescued by the people of Weatherford. She is touched by their concern.

She decides she is going to help them find and kill the “head” demon, for lack of a better phrase. Normally this would work as a fine example of somebody else – the people of Weatherford – inspiring someone to be better than they are, but Rawle shoots himself in the foot a bit with this section:

“Here. You must be hungry,” Mash said as he handed Dimity a biscuit. The beige, rough square looked and felt like concrete, but it was either eat this or eat nothing. Though it punished her teeth, she ate it, and it tasted bland rather than bad; a small price to pay to gain the respect of Weatherford. Once the demon hive crumbled into dust, she would never have to worry about rejection by Weatherford again.

Dimity is still calculating at this point. It’s not really about helping the people of Weatherford, but about making life easier for her. This is a subtle but key difference.

There are examples where the characters inspire each other to do better, of course; mostly Rawle goes for romantic love, with the problem – to me, at least – that his relationships weren’t particularly well developed (part of this is less the relationship itself, I suppose, and more that the characters didn’t act particularly like real people, but now we’re going outside of the scope of this particular criticism a bit). Even so, it feels as if there’s something missing here.

Contrast that with “Daredevil”. An excellent example of exactly this sort of quality comes in the second (and best) episode of the series, “Cut Man”. Daredevil, who is severely injured, is being taken care of and hidden from bad guys by a nurse who found him in a dumpster. When he asks her why she hasn’t just called 911, she tells him that she’s heard stories of a mysterious man in black going around rescuing people from attackers, and suspects (correctly) that he is that man. She wants to believe in him and his mission, and so yields to his wishes and helps hide his identity.

Claire later ends up helping Daredevil figure out where a kidnapping victim has been hidden, and becomes a constant aid throughout the season. She is a perfect example of a character who, inspired by somebody else’s heroism, becomes a hero herself.

Daredevil himself fights not for himself, but for his city, a constant theme of the season. It’s a core concept of “Daredevil”.

Let’s move on.

Virtuous: This means that there is a right and wrong in the world. This does not mean there can’t be moral complexity and ambiguity – in fact, when done well this can be incredibly powerful – but even then there needs to be an understanding that there’s a difference between right and wrong. The characters themselves don’t necessarily need to be virtuous, but the concept of virtue must exist in the framework of the story.

Virtue is more or less assumed in “Sword and Flower”, which is as it should be. I have nothing to criticize here.

Even so, “Daredevil” is superior on this point. The Kingpin serves as a dark mirror for Daredevil; he claims to have the same end goal as Daredevil – saving Hell’s Kitchen – but has absolutely no limitations on the means he’s willing to use to accomplish that goal. And Daredevil himself does some disturbing things throughout the show, to the point where “We’re not so different, you and I” actually becomes a serious plot point. This connects to the “virtuous” category in the sense that it explores the idea of whether we can talk about right and wrong in terms of individual actions as opposed to broader goals. Daredevil suggests that at the very least discriminating against who we’re hurting matters, while the Kingpin considers such a strategy ultimately ineffective. The dueling philosophies makes for a compelling conflict.

Next up, Heroic– Closely entwined with the second category, the Heroic category means that there is a standard of heroism. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll have a hero, it means that the protagonist has a code of ethics under which they work, a code of ethics that marks them as something more than a villain.

“Sword and Flower” has a villain who’s obviously evil, a literal demon and a psychopath. Dimity is better than him practically by default, as are Mash and the other Puritans. The problem here all goes back to that problem of a lack of realistic characters, and the earlier issue of the lack of inspiring/aspiring characters. Dimity’s code of ethics isn’t really that much more than “survive”. Eventually it turns into “Survive and also help Mash survive”, but even then she hyperfocuses on Mash to an almost sociopathic degree, completely ignoring the deaths of an entire team of warriors who are ostensibly her allies.

Does she reject the evil demon’s offer to also become an evil demon? Yes, she does, but on the other hand, this offer is made by the same man who implied he might have raped her just a few minutes ago. Why would she listen to anything he has to say?

So Dimity is more than a villain, but it’s not because she has any sort of code of ethics so much as she wasn’t born a sociopath, or at least, she wasn’t born AS sociopathic.

Daredevil’s code of ethics is a major theme of the show: What is he willing to do to stop the Kingpin? Would he be willing to kill him? Should he be willing to kill him? At what point is beating up on the bad guys not heroic but just wrong? The show uses the conceit of Daredevil speaking with his Priest as a tool to explore the issue of what it means to be a hero and to avoid falling into villainy. Again, this is a major theme of the show.

And onward again, we have Decisive – This means that the characters are active; their actions matter. They are not bereft of agency, at the whim of fate, or purely reactive to the things going on around them.

This is actually a major problem in “Sword and Flower”. Dimity dies. No choice there. She goes into the Lesser Heaven. No choice there. She is discovered and kidnapped by the people of Weatherford after killing a demon (who was trying to kill her). No choice there. She attempts to escape, can’t, and is rescued by the people of Weatherford. Her choice is robbed; the decision she tries to make is thwarted. When she does FINALLY make the choice to help on her own, the decision is couched in self-interest, in making life more pleasant for her in the town as opposed to doing it simply because it’s the right thing.

Mash, though not the protagonist, is a little better here; at least he makes the choice to defend Dimity, and this has consequences. Elizabeth is a great example of this category in action. She does the right thing at great cost to herself, ending up first with imprisonment and later a violent death, but after she accomplishes her goals. Unfortunately, Elizabeth is only a subplot in the story. While this definitely is a contributor to the category, the book isn’t very strong here as a whole

As I’ve been writing this, I’ve started remembering more and more how season one of “Daredevil” was practically a textbook example of superversive fiction. “Daredevil” is all about decisive characters. Daredevil doesn’t need to do any of what he does, and his actions have huge ramifications, positive and negative, on himself and hid friends. But he does it anyway, and as a result, Wilson Fisk is arrested and his criminal empire dismantled. And he’s just one of several characters who make similar choices.

Moving on again, we have our last category, Non-Subversive. This is probably the most subjective of the five categories of standard superversion. It simply means that the work does not attempt to subvert the paradigms of healthy culture, and doesn’t mock and criticize needlessly.

“Sword and Flower” is pretty good on this score. It has a clearly Christian cosmology (the historically dominant religion of western civilization since the fall of Rome), masculine heroes, and feminine women (once again, Elizabeth rightfully looms large here). It isn’t perfect; for all of the praise of its female characters, Dimity doesn’t actually act very feminine at all. She takes a major leadership role and heads directly into battle right along with the men – and Mash, her supposed love interest, volunteers her. Now, he has an excellent reason for volunteering her, but…it still doesn’t really sit right.

Even so, I can’t fault “Sword and Flower” on this one. It is very much supportive in general of western civilization.

“Daredevil”, once again, is excellent in this regard. Daredevil is a warrior; the Kingpin is a violent thug; Claire is a nurse, almost a literal helpmeet. Karen’s main skill is convincing other people to join the fight. Daredevil goes to see his Priest on a regular basis, something played completely straight. The Priest is not a Father Just-Call-Me-Bob, but a real preacher, a traditional Catholic loyal to the Church and her teachings. Again, it’s not perfect; the sight of little old ladies throwing people across the room is a bit silly. But a good 90+% of the show is shockingly “traditional”, for lack of a better word.

So there you have it. You don’t need to necessarily agree with me, but hopefully this helps you understand my thought process. It doesn’t come out of nowhere.

And if you’re wondering why I picked “Daredevil”…don’t blame me. Apparently there was confusion over how “Daredevil” could be considered superversive, but “Sword and Flower” couldn’t. This struck me as a self-fulfilling prophecy: Supposedly, the big issue with superversion is that we need literal angels to come in and save the day in an obvious way. But then I said that the gritty street-level superhero story “Daredevil” IS superversive and “Sword and Flower” – a story that does, in fact, have literal angels in it – was, if not entirely non-superversive, much less so. Thus, we didn’t know what we were talking about and superversive meant whatever we wanted it to mean.

Hopefully one can see how it’s at least a little unfair to say that if we don’t define superversive specifically in a way that makes it sound narrow and limiting, than any definition we use makes no sense or is arbitrary.

Even though this is the first time it was all codified like this – after careful observation of the various books in the supeversive recommended book list, and teasing out what they had in common – this has in its essentials been what superversive meant from the beginning. There’s a reason one of my first articles here was about “Daredevil”, and there’s a reason why a new analysis of the show from our more refined modern perspective confirms that original analysis with flying colors.

Superversion as a concept makes sense, and even if it’s a categorical variable, as Corey put it, that’s not the same thing as not being a variable at all.

The Superversive in “Sword and Flower”

Okay. Re-reading the discussion, and talking with a couple of the people involved, it appears my second post is the one that provoked the really strong reactions. I’ve thought about it some, and I think I’m still going to defend it; though admittedly part of this is my own fault.

Look, calling the biggest problem of the book the lack of the superversive is oversimplistic; more accurate is to say that the problem is the lack of believable or interesting main characters. The problem could be solved by taking advantage of a storyline natural to the setting and giving the main characters redemption arcs. This provides them with motivation and context for their actions and can even explain some of the nonsensical or ridiculous character decisions. And it’s a naturally superversive arc that can be incredibly powerful when done well.

Sure, there are other ways to solve the problem. But I was asked to look at it from a superversive critical framework, and for several reasons I actually do think this would be the best way to solve the book’s main problems. Everyone becomes more interesting, more motivated, more decisive, and even more relatable. Puzzle pieces start to fit; and it all fits in like a glove with the setting anyway.

Are there other ways to greatly improve the story? There are, sure. But this is the most natural, and I think the most powerful, option.

I don’t much care what Star Wars did or didn’t do. “Sword and Flower” isn’t Star Wars, it’s its own, original story. If we’re making a big deal about the huge variety of stories that can be told in the pulp framework I’m not sure why Star Wars suddenly became the standard to judge “Sword and Flower” by.

So yeah, to say “The biggest problem is the lack of the superversive” isn’t quite right.

More accurate is “The biggest problem is the lack of believable character motivations, and this problem could have been solved in a way that fit the narrative naturally and was superversive, which would have been a huge improvement.”

But that’s not as pithy.

More on “Sword and Flower”

Jeffro has an interesting post up on the Castalia blog where the pulp guys discuss my “Sword and Flower” review. It more or less stands for itself, but I want to respond to a few points.

Disclaimer: If this sounds harsh, it’s only because I’m being direct. I’m not angry or anything. I’m just trying to cut to the heart of it here. At any rate, I’m hardly more harsh than they are towards me (which I have no problem with).

Its story beats are only a surprise because they haven’t been seen in decades and/or the vast majority of culture creators are constitutionally unable to do them with a straight face.

So? When did I ever deny that? For that manner, when did I mention my surprise or lack of it one way or another?

This thing with “the story is crying out for a redemption arc” bit. I have no idea what that is about. I mean the point of a pulp story is to have somebody punch evil and kiss the girl, right?

Well, in my original review I said that my big problem with the story is that the characters don’t act like people. And they don’t.

The redemption arc is an attempt to solve that problem by giving the characters motivations beyond “survive”. And it’s a superversive motivation that is even suggested by the setting. You can have a more pedestrian motivation that can work perfectly well too, but it would at least be shooting for a lower mark.

Star Wars didn’t have a redemption thingy in the first movie.

“Sword and Flower” isn’t “Star Wars”.

Even if you grant that whatever Anthony is talking about is essential, I just don’t see why you’d absolutely have to have it in the first installment.

It’s not essential. Characters acting like humans? That’s essential.

Still, if the Daredevil television show is more supeversive than Rawle’s story… then I don’t know what superversive is anymore. I just have no idea what they’re talking about!

This is correct. He doesn’t.

“Sword and Flower” never tries to look beyond itself. Sure, it’s set in lesser Heaven. Sure, the protagonist fights demons. But everything is motivated by self-interest; either that, or none of it makes any sense. Dimity admits several times that she doesn’t try to escape because that would be even more dangerous than staying. She fights the demons because she has a stake in it just as much as the Puritans; she says herself that she’s doing it to “never have to worry about rejection from Weatherford again”; they’ve been trying to kill her the whole novel, after all. Jeffro even ADMITS outright that Rawle isn’t shooting for superversive:

I mean the point of a pulp story is to have somebody punch evil and kiss the girl, right?

Right. That wasn’t the point of Daredevil. It was far more than that. It’s about a deeply flawed and weak human being who overcomes all of that to be a hero. “Sword and Flower” may try for this (and I give Rawle credit for that!), but with cardboard cutout characters that don’t act like real humans and have thin motivations, it just doesn’t work.

Remember, my original review didn’t mention lack of superversive as the main flaw. It mentioned lack of realistic or interesting characters, with the exception of the (briefly appearing) Elizabeth. Plus the egregious oversight of mentioning the dead Elizabeth but not the team of dead warriors at the end of the story.

Later on:

P. Alexander: Usually when a Japanese show is about redemption, the [stuff] went down prior to the start of the story, and the whole show is about trying to make up for whatever the hero failed at, which may be shown in a series of flashbacks.

It’s too bad I didn’t mention a specific character who could literally have that exact arc.

Oh, wait, I did. Mash.

 And, there is a redemption bit. I’m not sure how fighting demons can be seen as anything other than an act seeking redemption for people condemned to a lesser heaven.

Survival? Dimity doesn’t seem particularly concerned with being a demon hunter until Mash convinces her, and Mash convinces her because the demons are threatening their town. There isn’t a hint of redemption there.

And, this continual comparison of short works to full novels or even whole seasons of a tv show just isn’t a fair comparison as to how much can be achieved in a given space.

All right. Then don’t bring that up to me when asking for a specific comparison.

As for “The Wish List”, it’s not very long. It’s also much better, and very pulpy itself. Seriously. Read it. Not to sound like too much of a jerk here, but it’s MUCH better than “Sword and Flower”.

P. Alexander: From now on, I’m gonna read “Not Superversive enough” as “Literal Santa Claus didn’t show up to hand out plot items.”

I’ll leave you all to judge whether or not this is a fair reading. For my part, since I never mentioned anything remotely like that, it just comes off to me as as ridiculous a strawman as anything I’ve seen so far. Come on, man. do better.

Nathan Housley: The funny thing is I can see Jagi Lamplighter recognizing Sword & Flower as a different type of superversive than Anthony is trying to make it. (Anthony is misreading genre and beats here. Sword & Flower is not the type of story he wants it to be.)

Yes, the type of story with characters that act like people.

“Sword and Flower” might try, but it tries in the same way “Suicide Squad” tried to be superversive: When your writing isn’t up to snuff, you’re inevitably not going to hit that mark as well as you should. Rawle tries, but there’s a noumenal level there he misses; perhaps he can hit it in his next book. Or maybe he doesn’t go superversive at all, and just improves generally.

I really want to emphasize here that the bigger issue is the characters. They just don’t work.

Like symbolism, it exists, but in recognition, it usually reveals more about the what the reviewer sees in the text than the text itself. And when fundamentally and intentionally subversive works are held up as superversive, it makes me wonder if superversive is not short for “I like it.”

I will note that this is the exact issue the superversives had had with the pulp rev all along, and now you’re going to pull that same thing on us? Seriously? Without batting an eye or seeing a hint of irony there?

Look, if you think we’re calling subversive work superversive, then yeah, you disagree with us that the work is superversive. It happens; we don’t always agree on everything.

With that said, Nathan is also just wrong. We DO, in fact, have guidelines for what makes a story at least noumenally superversive. Here it is. And here’s why Daredevil meets those guidlines, by the way. If you want to know what makes a story “simple” superversive, you can always read Tom Simon’s original essay.

Jeffro: It’s the first time in years that you see a female character (a) operating in a helper role and (b) not surrounded by a Greek chorus of cheerleaders. It’s astonishing. The fact that she did something “wrong” in order to do something right… the fact that she puts herself at odds with society to do the right thing… that makes her instantly likable in a way that no characters on Iron Fist or Jessica Jones ever achieve.

No argument there. Elizabeth was great.

Jon Mollison: The Superversives want to remind people to do the right thing by having literal angels show up in their stories. I want my stories to remind people to do the right thing.

Full stop. You don’t need angels.

Wait. Were you even taking part of the same conversation? My original example was Daredevil.

Hey, remember that scene from “Daredevil” where the literal angel shows up to help Daredevil?

No?

Me either.

Look, I respect the pulp rev guys. We won’t agree on everything. That’s okay! But when they directly contradict themselves (how can you possibly say my idea of superversive has to do with “literal angels” showing up or “Santa Claus bringing presents” when earlier in the same conversation you’re complaining that you don’t see how Daredevil is more superversive than “Sword and Flower”?) to accuse us of things that nobody has even hinted at (where on earth did any of us hint that “Santa Claus had to being presents” for a work to be superversive? How do you even get that reading?), I don’t think it’s unfair for me to call them out on it.

Rawle has potential. He can improve. But “Sword and Flower” wasn’t good because his characters didn’t act like real people, or were two-dimensional cut-outs; the problem could have been solved by giving them stronger character arcs and goals, and a powerful one, hinted at by the setting, even, is a redemption arc.

That was my case.

You should read the work; a lot of people are disagreeing with me, after all. Let it speak for itself, and decide whether I’m totally off the mark or whether I have a point. Who knows? Maybe it really is JUST me.

And also, read “The Wish List”. I’ll have to do a write-up on that one day.