Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Sean Taylor Shares the Skinny on THE NEW DEAL: MASKS AND MUTATIONS!
A: What If
“What if” is a writer’s favorite game to play. It’s the basis of all stories. What if King Lear happened on a farm but from the POV of a “bad” heir? That’s Jane Smiley’s A THOUSAND ACRES, for the record. What if spiritual samurai tried to hold off imperialism from an invading and technologically superior force? That’s both history of Japan and the basis for a little space movie called STAR WARS. What it space were the wide-open West and we sent people out to explore it? You guessed it, STAR TREK.
“What if” keeps the fictional world from becoming stagnant. It’s the remix that word-artists use to create something new from something borrowed, something blue. “What if” is the glue (sorry for the cliché) writers make from the hooves of both classic and often forgotten literary steeds.
Now that we’ve established that, what about this one: What if the American public had a scapegoat on which to blame all the bad stuff from the 1920s and 1930s, such as the stock market crash, increasing crime, etc.? And what it that scapegoat weren’t a race but a whole new kind of people, a new generation of people born with amazing powers, some that could stay hidden in public and others that didn’t have that luxury?
B: Man Vs. Man
Two super hero-themed books have always stuck with me as being important to the American cultural/creative landscape. The first is the X-Men adventure God Loves, Man Kills. It’s a masterpiece of Us vs. Them literature. The second is the Wildcards series edited by George R.R. Martin et al, particularly the first book with its crazy trip through American history with the added benefit (or detriment) of Aces and Jokers.
But this Us vs. Them theme sadly isn’t confined to books and movies. We all know that. Without racism, the X-Men wouldn’t have been so popular since that was their story to tell (only slicing it in a fantastical way). The Wildcards books would have had little to say beyond mere escapist fiction without the realities of McCarthyism and anti-socialist and anti-communist politics at their core.
I’m not talking about simple man vs. man plot structures here. This is far deeper than the noble sheriff vs. the bad cattle rustler, or even the disillusioned copper vs. the vicious gangster. I’m talking about the propensity of human beings to focus on the things that make us different and use those very things at best to segregate the greater (us) from the lesser (them), or at worst the right and proper (us) from the evil and should be gotten rid of.
It’s one of the things that makes us rightly and truly suck as people, but it makes us great fodder for stories, fantastic fodder for compelling stories.
It’s the fodder at the heart of this collection of stories, which brings us to…
C: This Book
At its simplest, this book asks the question, “What if the X-Men happened in a generic way right around the Great Depression and took all the blame for, well, everything?” But it didn’t stay there. With the input of several writers I trust, value, and am jealous of, it became more than just a rip-off of the X-Men. It became something wonderfully and truly pulp, something that took the ideas of masked men with guns and fedoras from the realm of possibility into the realm of the fantastic, of superheroics.
The pulp era is filled with costumed do-gooders, but most of them were what my first super-fiction editor staunchly referred to as “mere vigilantes.” (A super hero, after all, had to have super-powers, according to him.) Men and women with guns. Men and women who were tremendous athletes, but nonetheless merely human.
This volume takes those men and women farther. But rather than putting the superhuman on a pedestal and seeing him or her as a god or goddess, it takes a more realistic approach. As I said above, we humans don’t have a good track record welcoming the new and different, especially when it frightens the bejeeszus out of us.
The title is an obvious riff on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s political stab at rejuvenating the country. Only in this case the new deal is not what history tells us. It’s a new kind of human. The new and different. The thing no longer in the shadows that frightens the bejeezus out of us.
How the people involved “deal” with that new is what makes the stories in this collection worth your time and money.
So welcome to THE NEW DEAL: MASKS AND MUTATIONS.
I hope you enjoy your trip to the past that never was.
Creator of The New Deal: Masks and Mutations
September 30, 2016