You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2013.

The daily prompt a few days ago asked us to look at our stats – which posts are our most popular?  What connects those posts?

My top three posts of all time are:

The first one, technically, is a page, not a post.  I’ll ignore that.  The link between the second two is clear – posts which link to other people’s blogs, so that their followers come to see who is giving them an award.  There’s only so many times you can do that before other bloggers start getting annoyed at you, so I chose to look a little further down the list.

Again, the link here is clear.  I obviously need to talk about superheroes more!

I have no problem with that.  I’m a pretty big fan of superheroes.  Especially ones with secret identities, and today I’m going to talk a little about why.

Growing Up Super

I was brought up on a diet of Superman – specifically, Lois and Clark, the New Adventures of Superman.  That’s the one with Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher, for those of you who don’t know all of the incarnations off the top of your head. I admit I became a little obsessed by it – I recorded every episode so that I could watch them again and again, and I was heavily into fanfiction from quite an early age.

Of course, there was also the fact that he was… quite pleasant on the eyes.

Later in life I discovered that Dean Cain caused a lot of controversy with the hard-core Super-fans, because (Shock! Horror!) he has brown eyes.  But growing up I have to admit that I didn’t even notice.  In fact, since it was the first version of the hero I had encountered, it seemed odd to me when I found out that all of the others have blue eyes.

What I loved about Dean Cain’s portrayal of Superman was that, primarily, he wasn’t Superman.  He was Clark Kent.  In fact, at the start of the first episode, Superman didn’t even exist.  He only came into existence because Lois spotted Clark just after he had rescued someone and told him he was dirty and should bring a change of clothes to work.

The show focused more on his daily life and his struggle to be both halves of his personality than it did on fighting super-villains (although there were a fair few of those).  Hiding often creates as many problems as it solves.

The point here, if I can drag myself back to it, is that Clark invented Superman as a way to hide who he was.  However, even before that he was hiding behind a pair of glasses and a loud tie, trying to pretend that he was normal.

It’s a great relief to a young girl to realise that even people who have the power to lift spaceships into orbit sometimes feel the need to hide.

Masks vs Hiding in Plain Sight

Later, I discovered other heroes.  Batman (Adam West version, of course!) was, in some ways, the complete opposite of Superman.  He spent more time as Batman than as Bruce Wayne – indeed it sometimes seemed that Bruce only existed to fund the fancy toys, and occasionally to be kidnapped.

Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb.

And he hid behind a mask.  The mask made it obvious that he was someone else.  He had something to hide.

Clark got away with a simple pair of glasses because everyone thought “hey, he’s not hiding his face, he clearly isn’t hiding anything else; he must spend all of his time as Superman.”  Everyone knew that Batman was really someone else, and some of the best plots revolved around people who were determined to discover who he was.

Is it somehow more honest to hide behind a mask?

If people think they are getting to know the real you, when in fact they are learning the mask, is that more deceitful than openly acknowledging that you are holding people at arms’ length?

What would the first human on Mars say?  The words chosen will echo through history in the same way that Neil Armstrong’s famous line has.  That’s a lot of pressure for whomever is chosen to be the first person on the planet.  They’d better pick something profound!

The BBC has been asking people to contribute on Twitter, using the hashtag #BBCMARS, and in the comments of this article.  Here are some of the best (serious and otherwise):

hum “Mars, the Bringer of War” by Gustav Holst (@oz_penguin)

It was once said ‘a small step for man’ but today we make that giant leap 4 mankind (@welsh_steve25)

once again my dear friends we take a step into the unknown (@SirPhil1983)

‘Well, for this night we will repose us here: /To-morrow toward London back again’ Shakespeare 2H6 II.i. (@Shakes_Today)

Where’s the Mars bar? (@JohnnyReaction)

‘we step beyond the capability of man kind, yet again.’ (@caitlin_ent)

“It’s land, Jim, but not as we know it.” (@eridanus)

Here are my suggestions.  Bonus points for people who recognise the source of inspiration for the first few.

“Quick!  Get the Easy Listening music!”

“Dark is the suede that mows like the harvest.”

“Yesterday, the moon.  Today, Mars.  Tomorrow, the universe!  Mwa-ha-ha-ha-haaaa!”

“Hey, what are all these dead cats doing here?”

And, more seriously,

“That’s just one more step in mankind’s journey to the stars.”

What would you like the first person on Mars to say?  What would you say if it were you?

Man, her last work, who seem’d so fair,
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who roll’d the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law–
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed–

Who loved, who suffer’d countless ills,
Who battled for the True, the Just,
Be blown about the desert dust,
Or seal’d within the iron hills?

No more? A monster then, a dream,
A discord. Dragons of the prime,
That tare each other in their slime,
Were mellow music match’d with him.

— Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Tooth and Claw, by Jo Walton, has been described as “Pride and Prejudice of the dragon world”, but I think this does the book a disservice.

Pride and Prejudice, in my opinion, dragged a little.  Tooth and Claw does not.  At all.  From the very first scene, I was dying to find out what happened next, and how the various intricacies of the plots would work themselves out.

The book does share some similarity of style with the classics, but it lacks the thing that irritates me most about those books.  Jane Austen, along with most of the other famous authors of the period, writes assuming a level of basic knowledge about the society in which the characters live.  That’s fair enough – and modern authors do it too – but now that society has changed, I can’t help but feel there are little nuances of meaning which escape me.  Little jokes, which, if only I knew more about the society they lived in, I would find hilarious.

Tooth and Claw is set in another world.  Jo Walton goes through the world-building process that readers of fantasy and science fiction will be familiar with.  Her dragon society is not just human society with dragon characters, but involves new rules for what is “normal” – such as eating the remains of your parents after they die, culling the weak, and so on.  Sure, there are some things which stay the same – like the distinction between the gentry and the poor folk – but it’s all explained.

One of the interesting things was the effect that biology has on their marriage practices.  Maiden dragons are gold.  If they get too close to an unmarried male dragon who loves them, then they blush pink (later to turn red when they’ve laid their first clutch of eggs).  This means that everyone can tell if you’ve been alone with a male.  A maiden who blushes before she has become betrothed is considered spoiled.  It leads to some fine predicaments for two of the characters.  If you wanted to, you could read all sorts of political messages into that.

Tooth and Claw doesn’t take itself too seriously.  It has a kind of dry wit spread throughout which made it very good reading.  For example, the scenes have headings, and throughout the book there are a great number which are called “A confession”, “A proposal”, “A second confession”, “Two deaths and a third proposal” and so on.  Near the end there is one which is titled “The narrator is forced to confess to having lost count of both proposals and confessions”.

I would recommend this book for people who like the style of classic novels, people who like dry wit, people who like dragons, and people who are any combination of the above.

Kickstarter is a good place to find new technology (and rubbish, but that’s a different matter).  This one was actually reported on by the BBC (in passing at the end of this article), which is how I found it.

Imagine powering your phone just from walking around.  The developers reckon they can charge an iPhone from the amount of walking the average person does in a day.  In today’s sedentary world, that’s quite impressive!

I want one.  Or two, rather, one for each shoe.

Not only does it reduce our dependence on traditional means of generating electricity, but it also encourages people to get more exercise.  That’s win-win as far as I can see.  It’s no wonder they’ve already met their funding target.

I’m particularly amused by the fact that you also need a pair of glasses to make it work.

The Author

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something martial artist who runs two Brownie packs and works full time. She somehow still finds time to write.

Her favourite genres are near-future and alternate world science fiction and fantasy.

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