Skip to content

All Good Things…

I’ve been watching the entire run of Sapphire & Steel recently and just watched the final story, which is weird even for this show, with an ending that is pretty mindblowing and a definitive way to end the series.

(If you’re not familiar with Sapphire & Steel, it’s a British SF show that ran from 1979-1982 and starred David McCallum and Joanna Lumley. It’s pretty much like classic Doctor Who with 90% fewer special effects and 90% less explanation of what the fuck is going on. If David Lynch did Doctor Who, you’d have Sapphire & Steel.)

Aaaaaanyway, the end of the final story remind me of a thought I had after getting to the end of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, which was, “What if ongoing comic book and TV series were written like novels, with specific beginnings and endings?” What if Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had written Superman comics as if they were an adaptation of an epic SF series of novels, and after five or ten years of stories in Action Comics and his own solo title, the stories built up to a dramatic conclusion that tied everything (or most things, at least) up. And then it was over. Same with Batman, Captain Marvel, Captain America, the Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, the Spirit, and so on. There could be sequels and spin-offs, but it would also leave room for new characters and stories, while also leaving behind seminal “graphic novels” that could stand with Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 as classics that inspired later generations of stories. (John Byrne’s Superman & Batman: Generations trilogy of limited series is a terrific example of an epic superhero series where time passes normally, instead of legacy characters barely aging from decade to decade, and the stories build to definitive endings.)

I’m not knocking ongoing, never-ending, legacy characters. Besides Dr. Seuss books, the earliest things I read that made a big impression on me were ongoing legacy superhero comics. (Coming in on long-running series like superhero comics and Doctor Who is, I think, a big reason why I love in medias res and am frequently bored by origin stories. Throw me into the middle of a story and let me figure out who the characters are and what’s going on. Let me be confused at first. It’s all good.) But the longer a series goes on, a series with no long-term plan and no ending in sight, the more you have stories repeat themselves and the more protective companies are of the financially-secure status quo, so any changes to a character (Lois Lane finally figures out that Clark Kent is Superman and they get married) are almost always changed back to the status quo (or the changes are made irrelevant to the overall series, still protecting the status quo). There’s also the problem of the difficulty level for new readers to jump into a series with so much backstory (unless they’re like me and enjoy coming in at the middle point). Reboots are an attempt to solve this problem, but so far, that hasn’t shown to be much of a solution.

On the television front, Babylon 5 was the first SF show to be plotted and executed as a five-year series with a beginning, middle, and end, and while it wasn’t always consistently great, having a story that was constructed like a novel on TV worked in its favor. The various Star Trek series, starting with Star Trek: The Next Generation, haven’t always had the kind of “there is no status quo to protect” that Babylon 5 had, but they’ve all had definitive endings that, while variable in quality, worked to tie up the series and put a cap on them, which I think ultimately made them stronger. On the other hand, I started watching The Simpsons when it first premiered–over 25 years ago. I was a big fan for a long time, but I eventually lost interest because the show has just kept going but I wasn’t seeing anything new to keep me interested. I’m a massive Doctor Who fan, but after 26 years of the classic series and nine of the new show, I’m starting to feel fatigue setting in (and as much as I’d like to, I can’t blame it all on current showrunner Steven Moffat). When the original actor became too ill to continue in the role, the writers and producers came up with the imaginative idea of the character being able to regenerate his body into a new form, played by a new actor. Somewhere along the line, it was established that the Doctor could do this a total of 13 times, but when the last actor, Matt Smith, was leaving the show and it was revealed that he was technically the last regeneration, they wrote in a kind of escape clause that allowed them to change it so that the Doctor can once again regenerate any number of times, and the show never really has to end. But what if it did? What if they built everything up to an ending that finished the series for good. There wouldn’t be any new Doctor Who episodes, sure, but there would be around 36 seasons of shows to rewatch and enjoy, without the pressure of coming up with new stories that aren’t repeating the old and aren’t based in so much past continuity that it makes it difficult for new viewers to come in and understand everything that’s going on.

Like I said, I do still love reading and watching the adventures of legacy characters and franchises. But I also think stories with a definitive ending (even if the ending is “And the Adventure Continues…” or a total mind screw like the endings of The Prisoner and Sapphire & Steel) are stronger than stories that are written to never end. (Although series written towards a definite ending are not always successful. I’m looking at you, How I Met Your Mother. *) And I think the only real reason to have ongoing, neverending series is to keep the money coming in. Since I’m not a businessperson, I care far less about the money a story generates than I do about the strength of a story.

And…okay, I started this post without any idea of how I was going to finish it, so…I’m just going to stop writing and race off to my next exploit. The adventure continues…

* When the finale of How I Met Your Mother first aired, I liked the ending (unlike a lot of people), even though it completely flipped the expectation the writers had established at the beginning and maintained right up until the end. But the more I thought back on it, the more it felt like an utter betrayal of the audience and a really shitty way to end the story it was supposed to be telling.

The Refund Is I’m Sorry

it’s all the same
the refund is i’m sorry
this turn to boast now, some are time shopping
some are time shopping
capital fail
in it insane, and they’re at it with another of our arms
we are in hell with poverty on cheap wine
poverty is the check product
but they’re on this land, will arrive right on time
well, to a suitable is the fault in charge
to hope you can begin with no charge
begin to accept it
begin to accept it
or rock well, there’s an offer this next very troublesome day
we’ll get drunk, my friend
we will drink to our staff
to our staff
the value is none of it to hell
to hell with you
to hell with all of you

Ice Mutations and Medium Burns

like
every grain of sand on
an imaginary beach
everything
i’ve ever known feels
so out of reach
so close & yet
so far
once more unto the breach
but
my shoes are still not too tight to dance

jumping off the cliffs into
a dreamtastic sea
pursued by shadows
dusty rooms
a lonely place to be
reduced
to absolute zero
a frozen heartless plea
but my shoes
are still not too tight to dance

an apple split in two
a sharpened knife
a worm inside that wriggles
through all time & space
washed against the tide
& we sing a sad song
far & wide
far & wide
but
my shoes are still not
too tight to dance

sometimes i’m like the snowman
cold & soft & melting
fast
sometimes i’m like the pyramids
hard & lost to a distant past
sometimes i’m like
a sinking ship
torn sails & broken mast
but
my shoes
are still
not too tight
to dance

It Takes a Thief

Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist has been a huge influence on me, helping me get past a lot of creative blocks I’d set up for myself long, long ago and then hit my head against ever since. But after reading this post quoting David Bowie, I had one of those flashes of insight that feels like the walls of the house in your head are being blown apart, an explosion of clarity.

Why do I have such a difficult time coming up with plots for stories? I’ve long said it’s because it’s just hard for me to come up with plots, but what I meant was that it’s hard for me to come up with original plots, rather than copying the plots of other people’s stories. Why do I have such a difficult time creating characters? Because it’s hard for me to come up with original characters that aren’t clearly other people’s characters with the serial numbers (barely) filed off. Why can I be zipping along with my writing and suddenly slam into a barricade of “what words do I use next? OMG I CANNOT WORD AT ALL!”? Do I really have the oh-so-dreaded Writer’s Block? No, I’m just afraid of using other people’s words instead of being original.

When I was a little kid, I was so much more un-self-conscious about my creativity, and I cheerfully stole from everything that excited and inspired me. I traced comic books, renaming the characters and rewriting the dialogue. I stole characters, situations, and plots wholesale from comics, novels, movies, and TV shows, and I didn’t care, didn’t even think twice about it. And nobody told me I shouldn’t do that…until I got older, to that age when society starts hammering into you that stealing is bad and originality is good. (It’s the same age when society starts telling you that art is something only special people do, not something anyone and everyone can do.)

It’s monstrously stupid and a big, fat lie. But it’s a lie that is very powerful in our society’s narrative about creativity, and even after reading Steal Like an Artist, it’s been hard for me to truly see that narrative embedded within myself and break free from it. (Continued)

1987

it’s always like this
molly cat-eyes
faerie queene
pops through time & back into life
language to describe us
entangled in artpunk
& we know each other still
mystery strings sneaking past the moon
pennywhistle silly
& nevermind the cloak of murderous desire

strolling through the falling stars
an aftermath
smooth as honey
clueless as sand
drawn together by the thin white duke & his glass spiders
& from the moon we look
unbound by that spin
more magical than anyone truly deserves

maybe it’s we that connects us awkward teens
chancing after dusty windows
how we arrived here with all these years
these fleeting golden years
pain we don’t talk as the labyrinth
down in the underground of dreams
waving back when we were
a connection so strong
binding through time then
but there was of youth
when we knew each still conversation
slips & dances

no back
back
back in the bright-tiled day
all our magic is
we never a painted clown
& a puckish entangled in black
& pretty in mars
“do you consider yourself openminded?”

Gods With Vanilla

not a hoax!
not an imaginary story!
this is the real reality
the world
at its finest!
the worm

biting its own tail
around & around
we go
melting like butter
intelligent alloys
quicksilver

listen!
this is a hell of a world
so let’s go!
our sentient satellite hq
is waiting

for us to begin saving
the world
in a jam
of infrasonic panchromatic transvisible
multiplicity
ambient ultradreaming
into

this phony phantasmagoria
as shadows of falling bombs
paralyze us
& yet
this is

not a hoax!
not an imaginary story!
we’re here
& we’re here to go!