My master plan for global science fiction supremacy now enters Phase Two.
Having put my first two novels into the hands of North American SF fans, through the efforts of my faithful minions at Tor Books, Amazon, and bookstores everywhere, I've taken the next step. This month you can now read my books in German and Japanese!
My first novel, A Darkling Sea, is now available in Germany under the title Meer der Dunkelheit, from Cross Cult. I was glad to see that this edition uses the same awesome cover art by Thom Tenery as the Tor edition. The translator is Helga Parmiter.
Meanwhile, beyond the Pacific, I have become the proud author ofRaguranju Misshon, from Haya Kawa SF publishing. "Raguranju" is the Japanese transliteration of "Lagrange," the name of the French mathematician who predicte the existence of the stable "Lagrange points" in orbit. One of those positions is a key locale in the story, hence the title. The cover art is great, depicting the opening space battle with wonderful accuracy.
I'm a huge fan of Rudyard Kipling and his works. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I think he's one of science fiction's unacknowledged founders.
So, when one member of the Crack Team asked to go see the new live-action/computer-animated Disney film of The Jungle Book, I agreed — though not without some skepticism. While there have been some excellent Kipling adaptations (like the masterpiece The Man Who Would Be King, or Chuck Jones's animated Rikki-Tikki-Tavi), The Jungle Book has been a tough morsel for cinema. The best-known version, Disney's animated musical adaptation, is just crazy-making: as a film of Kipling's book, it fails on almost every level. But it's also got at least two of the best musical numbers ever written in it. How can something so contemptuous of its source material be so much fun? And other live-action versions have tried to do Indiana Jones knockoffs, or somehow shoehorn in a love story. Bah.
I have a theory about why The Jungle Book is so hard to film, and it doesn't have anything to do with the technical problems of talking wolves and panthers. The Jungle Book is one of Kipling's most personal works, and it embodies a lot of his philosophy, right at the core of the book. And Kipling's philosophy is not particularly jolly or family-friendly. The Jungle Book isn't about the importance of family, or the value of friendship, or the need for community, or how to get over your Daddy issues, or any of the other easy-peasy themes so beloved of screenwriters.
The Jungle Book is about not fitting in. Mowgli ultimately can't be a member of the wolf pack — he is abandoned and betrayed by the wolves and has to seek other allies against the tiger. But he can't live among humans, either; his one attempt to do so ends with a village destroyed in revenge. In the end, he lives in the jungle alone, respected and feared but with no family of his own. His best friends and coequals are the panther Bagheera and the terrifying python Kaa, both of whom are also loners. That's Kipling's philosophy of life in a nutshell: in the end you can only rely on yourself.
Anyway. About the movie.
Technically it's a triumph. At no point did I see the things on screen as anything but real animals in a real jungle. I don't know how much of this film was animated, how much involved "practical" effects, and how much was real. It all looked real. The kid playing Mowgli is very convincing. He talks to tennis balls on sticks better than anybody.
As a story, my one-sentence summary is that this movie is what you'd get if you hired Rudyard Kipling to write a scene-for-scene adaptation of the Disney animated feature. It has all the same story beats and even reproduces some shots, but there are a lot of bonus Kipling points. The wolves play a much bigger role than in the animated version, which is good; Bagheera is much more a wise counselor than a fussbudget; Kaa is properly an awesome force of nature rather than a comic sidekick villain. "King Louis" the out-of-place orangutan voiced by Louis Prima has turned into "King Louis" the out-of-geological period Gigantopithecus voiced by Christopher Walken like he's a refugee from a Tarantino film. There is no barbershop quartet of birds who look like the Beatles. Baloo is voiced by Bill Murray, who isn't as good a singer as Phil Harris. The ending is a bit muddled: we learn it's important to "be yourself" so Mowgli has to defeat the tiger using his human smarts and dexterity, but we also learn that Fire = Bad, except when you MacGyver a way to get your opponent to fall into an inferno. Apparently that's much better, morally, than just sticking a burning branch into his face.
If one views it as a loving tribute to the animated version, it's a triumph. As a Kipling adaptation, less so. Overall, I give it an A-, including the Kipling Points already awarded.
If trench warfare, gas clouds, influenza, and revolutionary chaos aren't bad enough, imagine the Great War with zombies! Or malevolent sentient rats! Or sinister sorcery manipulating both sides!
Yes, it's Weird War I, the supernatural theater of operations for World War I adventures. And it's now available as a PDF from Pinnacle Entertainment (the print edition should be out this summer). The game uses the Savage Worlds roleplaying system, which means it's cross-compatible with such excellent games as Deadlands, Rippers, The Day After Ragnarok, The Savage World of Solomon Kane, and many others!
So join Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's secret "MI-13" group to investigate supernatural perils — or serve with Austria's Schwarzbureau, with generations of experience dealing with Transylvanian terrors. Because the enemy in this secret war isn't the armies on the other side of No Man's Land, it's the horrors from outside reality, ready to prey on a world exhausted by bloodshed.
I don't write comic books, but I've been reading them for decades and I like speculating about the characters. The recent Batman Vs. Superman film got me thinking about how I would write Batman if DC Comics were to hire me.
Bruce Wayne, Gothamite
One thing which becomes obvious when you start thinking about Batman is that Bruce Wayne must really like his hometown. Consider: he's rich enough to live wherever he chooses, his parents were brutally murdered in front of him on a city street, and the place is a hellhole of crime and corruption that combines the worst of Baltimore, Detroit, and Boston.
So why does Bruce stay there, let alone spend all his free time investigating crimes the cops are too incompetent or corrupt to solve?
Answer: Bruce Wayne must love Gotham City, as strongly as H.P. Lovecraft loved Providence or Samuel Johnson loved London. And like both of them, it seems natural that Bruce must have spent a lot of time wandering around his favorite city, getting to know all its neighborhoods, all its quirks, all its secrets. Bruce Wayne is the ultimate Gotham Cityite. He knows where to get the best Gotham-style fried pork rolls and pizza-on-a-stick, he knows the bouncers at all the bars by name, he can point out which house Edgar Allen Poe stayed in during his six months in Gotham, and he knows which streets still have the original gas lamps. He's got season tickets to all the local teams and the symphony, and is the main benefactor of the struggling Gotham Historical Society.
How do we square this love for Gotham with Wayne's own tragic history? My guess is that his original guardian after the death of his parents packed young Bruce off to boarding school, which he hated. Maybe it was run by Jonathan Crane, alias The Scarecrow. After the first couple of times the resourceful lad escaped the school and snuck back to Wayne Manor, the guardians threw up their hands and let the family retainer Alfred Pennyworth look after the lad in the crumbling old house. This gives Master Bruce a lifelong taste for wandering around Gotham unsupervised.
The Last Resort
Another thing which needs fixing is Bruce Wayne's decision to dress in a scary costume and fight crime al fresco. In the comics, that's his lifelong ambition from about the age of ten onward, which seems kind of nuts. He's the scion of Gotham's oldest and richest family. There are other ways he could try to solve the city's problems.
My suggestion is that he already has tried — and failed!
After college and law school, ambitious young Bruce Wayne uses family connections to get himself hired as Gotham's youngest Assistant District Attorney (doubtless sharing an office with Harvey Dent). He's eager to take on the gangs that terrorize the city . . . and quickly gets his face rubbed in the fact that Gotham's city government is irredeemably corrupt. From the cops on the beat to the Mayor, everyone is on the take. The gangs run wild because they are hand in glove with Gotham's polticians. Wayne is stuck prosecuting small fry while the big predators are untouchable.
That's the sort of thing that might tempt a man to turn vigilante — and which would explain why he is at pains to conceal his true identity. In time Wayne's double life makes it harder and harder for him to continue his public career, and he has to make the choice: remain an ineffectual A.D.A. or devote himself full time to being the Batman? Not a hard decision.
Those Wonderful Toys
The Batmobile has to go, at least in its present form. I'm sorry, but in an age of ubiquitous traffic cameras, there's simply no way Batman can go tearing around Gotham in a unique, highly visible vehicle. Even the legendary incompetence of the Gotham police can't justify that.
No, Batman has to go the James Bond route: his vehicle must look ordinary — but with an arsenal of gadgets and special features hidden away under the skin. In fact, I'd suggest that Batman uses half a dozen different "Batmobiles," depending on the situation. There's one that looks like a delivery truck (for Wayne Courier Services, no doubt), another that's an old beat-up Caddy, another that's a taxicab (Wayne Taxi, of course), maybe even a minivan. This way Batman can appear and disappear as if by magic. It need hardly be said that all of them are absurdly fast and maneuverable, with smoke dischargers, ejector seats, mobile crime labs, and whatever else Batman needs.
Batman's outfit needs some tweaks, too. He should have several different costumes. (Bruce Wayne is, after all, a gentleman, and therefore understands the importance of dressing correctly for every occasion.) There's a "combat suit" when he's decided it's time for breaking heads, all Kevlar and night-vision goggles and sharp-edged Batarangs. There's a more concealable one for stealthy operations. And there should be a "breakaway" Bat-suit, so that he can quickly switch from costumed vigilante to ordinary citizen.
This iteration of Batman is more of a detective and a vigilante than a superhero. Unlike some previous takes on the character, this Batman doesn't think of the cloaked avenger as his "real identity" and Bruce Wayne as a social mask. He really is Bruce Wayne, Gotham's last defender. This Batman can tackle some thorny philosophical or ethical questions: is it right for him to appoint himself to the job? Would it be right to turn his back on the problem? Is Bruce Wayne a madman or a savior — or both?
I wear two hats, professionally. One of them is a propellor beanie, and is my Science Fiction Hat (if you win a Hugo award, you get to wear double propellors on your beanie). The other hat is my Game Design Hat (which probably looks like this). I wore my Science Fiction Hat when I wrote the story "Periapsis" for the Hieroglyph anthology. But when I was interviewed by Joey Eschrich, one of the people who created that ambitious collection, I wound up wearing my Game Design Hat for most of our talk.
Put on whatever headgear you find most comfortable and read it here.
Anyone who's interested in learning the Secret Backstory of my short story "Golden Gate Blues" can find out on the official 'blog of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, where there's a brief interview about How I Did It.
The March/April 2016 issue of the venerable Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction is on sale now. It's a double-sized issue packed with some great stories — all fantasy and science fiction, by an odd coincidence. And one of them is my own "Golden Gate Blues." Buy it, read it, enjoy it!
You all can squabble over Nebula nominations and Hugo award slates. Corsair just won the only science fiction award that really matters: The Atomic Rockets Seal of Approval! Gaze upon it in envy and despair.