Category Archives: Fantasy

Novel Romances

RomanceNovelDo you read romance novels? If you said no, are you lying? If you said no again, are you lying about lying? Chances are pretty good that you are.

According to Nielsen statistics reported by the Romance Writers of America (see here), 13% of all adult fiction consumed are romance novels. That’s a lot of romance totaling up to over $1 billion in sales in 2013. A whopping 84% of this market are females, mostly between 34 and 55 years of age.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that men’s notions about romance are pretty juvenile. But men don’t need to snuggle under a quilt and sip wine over a romance novel to experience their romantic fantasies. Men can pretty much just go see any mainstream movie for some vicarious romantic fiction.

Male romantic fantasies are pretty simple. Whether the hero of the movie is James Bond, or a flawed hero like Wade Wilson in Deadpool, or just an extraordinarily ordinary guy like Robbie Hart in The Wedding Singer, the man is lucky enough to meet an extraordinary woman who “gets” him. She accepts his profession, she finds his jokes funny, she cares about what he cares about, she accepts him exactly as he is, flaws and all, and she adores him just like he is. Oh yea, and of course she’s incredibly sexy.

While quite similar, female fantasies differ in some essential respects. If you read any number of romance novels, you find that almost all follow the exact same formula. The woman portrayed in the story is utterly amazing but no one appreciates just how amazing she is – until that one guy comes along. He recognizes that she is one in a billion and immediately becomes so smitten that he will do anything to have her.

This guy is never just any ordinary guy. He is invariably a bad boy, a super alpha male who can have any woman on the planet he wants, who has unlimited resources and power, who is so incredibly alluring that every woman wants him, and so bad ass that every man fears him. But despite all that he only desires the heroine and is helplessly devoted to her.

She however, invariably plays hard to get – very hard to get. Whether the guy is a secret agent, a Pirate Captain, a Persian King, or an ethically compromised billionaire, the hero must overthrow civilizations, vanquish armies, forsake his fortune, suffer torture and agonies that would kill most men, even cheat death itself, before she will finally give herself to him. And most importantly, since he is a bad boy, one essential way he must prove himself to her is by giving up his bad-boy ways for her.

As one example, I recently read the Hidden Fire series by Elizabeth Hunter (see here). I was looking for a good vampire novel and didn’t realize that this was as much romance novel as gothic adventure. The central figure Beatrice was working as a bookish librarian when a dark and mysterious stranger named Giovanni enters her life. He of course turns out to be a powerful ancient vampire who immediately recognizes that Beatrice is the one woman who he must have. He then sets about battling against every incredibly hopeless adversity in order to claim her and convince her of his undying loyalty and devotion. Honesty is almost always a key obstacle in these plot lines. In this story, Gio almost loses Beatrice when he lies to her to save her life.

Don’t get me wrong, the Hidden Fire books are  well-written and I enjoyed them, but they follow the same tried and true recipe for appealing to female readers. As a guy I found myself groaning with every other paragraph reading corny lines like “Gio couldn’t keep his eyes from straying toward her ample breasts” or “the ancient vampire trembled with desire as her hair brushed past his cheek.” It all seemed just as ridiculous as gorgeous women jumping into bed with James Bond (especially since they are usually just trying to kill him anyway).

But beyond the differences in style, the key difference between guys romantic fantasies and those of women seems to be that men dream that some alluring woman will love them immediately and unconditionally or at least want them sexually. Women want the powerful bad boy to find them, to be obsessed with her, to feel that they are the most amazing woman on the planet (or the galaxy and/or of all time), to overcome insurmountable adversities to win her, to prove his honesty, and to forsake all his bad-boy ways to eventually win her over.

What these romance novels seem to echo is the reality that while both men and women desire an attractive and capable romance partner, men want a woman who will accept them as they are while women want a guy who not only accepts her as she is but is willing to fundamentally change for her. The old adage that “men want the woman they love to never change and women want to change their man into the guy they love” seems to be a universal truth in romance fiction at least.

In the final analysis, there is one element of truth from romantic fantasy that transcends gender boundaries. Men and women alike both dream of being found by someone who will love them exactly as they are. Both James Bond and Beatrice agree on this. But Beatrice would expect James to prove his love by giving up exactly the behaviors that attracted her to him.

Love has no obligation to make sense, especially in romantic fiction.

 

Addendum: I received this comment via email. It’s so good I had to add it.

Women have been changing themselves to be attractive to men for centuries.  They starve themselves, squeeze their bodies into all kinds of unnatural shapes, suppress their ambition to become equal members of society…  Maybe the reason that men don’t want their women to change is that they don’t need to – the women have already done the changing.  Maybe the men in these romance novels are attracted to those women who have already become what the men want.  And maybe the men should consider the fact that in any relationship, both parties have to make accommodations, including them.

 

Dear Future Time-Traveler

If you are reading this it is probably the year 2416, give or take, you are undoubtedly one of the few technologists remaining alive in the last enclave of a largely uninhabitable future Earth decimated by the ravages of corporate planetary exploitation resulting in resource wars fueled by religious extremism. Your search algorithm undoubtedly pulled this ancient blog article off of molecular storage because you have just completed a prototype time-travel machine, you have only enough energy left on the planet to send one person back one time, and you are researching what a single lone agent could do to avert your catastrophic timeline.

ReaganHere is what you must do. It is your best chance for survival. You have to stop Ronald Reagan.

I know that time travel theory requires that you make only the most subtle possible alteration at a key intersection in the timelines, so just killing Reagan is ill-advised. Besides being ethically unacceptable, even to save the planet and billions of future lives, his death could result in wildly unpredictable repercussions. Therefore, you must send your agent back to April 22nd, 1980 just two days before the fateful Operation Eagle Claw failed famously to rescue American hostages held in Iran. Your agent must gain access to Col. Charles A. Beckwith and convince him to inspect the helicopter rotors and hydraulics and avoid flying though regions with sandy particulates.

If your agent can assure that these minor problems are avoided, he or she can thwart Reagan’s alleged conspiracy with Iran to hold the hostages until after the election in order to discredit Jimmy Carter. In any event, this will likely prevent Reagan from gaining the White House, which will keep the solar panels on the roof and ensure that the nascent enculturation of Carter’s responsible, science-based energy and social policies are not aborted by Reagan.

By thwarting the Reagan Presidency, we avoid the critically pivotal fork when we chose self-interest over social good; unrestrained consumerism over sustainability; religious extremism over humanist ethics; voodoo trickle-down economics over sound economic policies; superstition over science; beliefs over facts; hatred for the government over pride in government; rabid partisanism over political cooperation; and unrestrained militarism over a thriving peace-time economy.

If Carter had retained the Presidency, there would have been a chance at least that science and fact-based thinking would have prevailed; that the religious community would have followed his humble example of restraint and separation from government affairs; that rampant consumerism and self-interest would not have completely corrupted corporate leaders into elevating next-quarter’s profits and personal bonuses above all social considerations; that subsequent generations of government leaders would not be hell-bent to destroy government and the people that support them would not be convinced that government is their enemy. In the alternate timeline, John McCain would never have considered nominating Sarah Palin and Donald Trump would never have become the orange-haired Frankenstein’s Monster of our own creation that he is. The existential threat of Global Climate Change and all of its resultant horrors would have been managed responsibly with a long-term and forward-looking sense of responsibility for the planet and for future generations.

So, future time-traveler, this is your only hope, our final hope. You must ensure that Operation Eagle Claw does not fail. If you succeed in that mission, this whole tragically cascading timeline will never have occurred. Hopefully moments after I click Publish on this blog article, my timeline will shift because you will have read it in the future and sent your agent back in time and he or she has succeeded in averting the failure of Operation Eagle Claw which has prevented the Reagan Presidency and the ascendency of the crazy religious anti-government Right. Your future world and mine will transform into a sane, rational, humane planet, unpolluted and unthreatened by climate change, with an America that is truly the light of the world rather than the single greatest threat to its survival.

If we fail to rise to our challenge of building a sane and sustainable planet, you future time-traveler are our last hope!

 

The Accidental God

Copyright © 2009 by Tyson Gill

It’s amazing what a modestly industrious fellow can accomplish with a couple hundred thousand years to blow.

Aaron, Hugo, and I were making a routine freight run to our colony on RJ94b. It was a 7 year sleeper haul that didn’t require much effort on our parts; in fact I guess you could say we were more freight than crew. Aaron and Hugo were traveling to take postings on RJ94b, while I was planning to catch a hop to RJ23e to join the terraforming team there as the Principal Scientist in charge.

Just over 4 Earth years in, the onboard computer tripped the alarms, breaking our hiber. It seemed kind of cruel to wake us up as by that point there was little we could do except appreciate how fucked we were. Some uncharted anomaly had thrown us far off course and the onboard navigation computers couldn’t compensate. We woke to find ourselves hopelessly marooned in a region of space that defied identification. Without determining our location, there was simply no possibility of laying a course back.

We adjusted to our grim situation with surprising calm. No pathetic sobbing, no bemoaning rants, no desperate prayers. We had all known that 6.8% of interstellar shuttles were lost in transit. For sleeper barges like ours, the risk rose to 8.2%. There was still a lot we didn’t know about space and travel was still a crapshoot. The odds had simply caught up with us.

Survival protocols gave us only one option; one that we all knew was little more than a bit of welcome false hope. So we put the navigation computers into search mode and went back to sleep, knowing full-well that the odds of us ever again waking were minuscule.


We were astonished and unwillingly hopeful after being awakened for a second time. That groggy, giddy, euphoria only lasted long enough for us to learn the sobering truth that we had not miraculously arrived at an Earth colony. Instead, a full 26 Earth years has passed and we still had not fixed our bearings.

But ahead, not yet more than a missing pixel in the halo of a nearby star, sat a planet that electromagnetic scans showed to be Earthlike. Scientific curiosity immediately overcame our despair. What a find! What scientist wouldn’t happily give his life to be the first to explore such a world?

After weeks of careful preparation, and a frenzied review of landing procedures that were never intended to be executed, we managed to set down on a hilltop near a large body of surface water at temperate latitude. Of course the huge lumbering freighter could never move again, but dying on an uncharted planet, under a distant sun, was still far preferable to a cold, eternal sleep in dark and endless space.

We spent two days gradually throttling the engine down to a half-percent, but still capable of providing all the power we could use. The elegantly simple fusion cell had no moving parts and could operate indefinitely in idle mode, so we certainly had no worries about power. Next we spent several days reviewing the manifests and cataloguing our supplies. We had access to a hundred thousand tons of machinery and supplies designed to provide a full colony with all the materials needed to remain self-sufficient, so clearly we would want for nothing for the rest of our lives – except humanity.

Only after we had exhausted all our preparations, and repeated and rechecked them several times, did our curiosity overcome our fear enough to venture outside the ship for the first time. As we slid the small access hatch in and to the side, sunlight tinged with the slightest hint of tangerine washed over us. It was followed by a wave of cool, delicately scented air that reminded one of pine trees drenched in spring rain.

Hugo was the first to die.

We had ventured quite a distance from the ship, exploring and cataloguing the myriad of, well everything. Imagine stepping into a world where absolutely everything is brand new. Intricate new landforms shaped by processes of erosion never experienced on Earth, vegetation that had remarkable consistency of form and shape, but at the same time unlike anything back home, and diverse creatures that defied any Earthly phyla classifications.

alien-planet

Despite the strangeness of the environment, one should not overstate the differences. Perhaps far more remarkable were the similarities with Earth.  Our feet trod upon rock and soil, laden with minerals that were quite recognizable. Our arms pushed through photosynthetic fibers that were essentially grasses, shrubs, and trees. Our eyes caught glimpses of creatures that crawled, burrowed, leapt, and flew. We quickly felt quite naturally at home on this distant planet, unknown light-years from our own.

Any why should we not feel at home? We are creatures of the universe after all. Our attachment to our one little planet is merely emotional. All throughout the universe our same familiar chemistry and physics apply equally. It should come as no surprise that on many planets of similar size and distance from their sun, the same weather patterns would emerge, similar life would evolve, and those forms of life would diversify to fill all the same environmental niches; that some would photosynthesize sunlight and others would consume them.

It was perhaps because of our newfound feeling of familiarity and comfort that Hugo perished.

The tangerine sun was directly overhead, so we had spent about half of the long 37 hour day exploring around the edge of a massive swamp. We were all a bit groggy because our circadian rhythms were still stubbornly insistent upon a 24 hour day. Hugo was in the lead, as he was wont to do, barely able to bridle his energy and enthusiasm. We always seemed to be holding him up wherever we hiked.

Aaron and I looked up casually and halted. Hugo was simply gone. We stood still for the longest while, listening and looking for a sign of him, waiting for him to find us. But there was only the faint buzz and whistling of swamp insects that betrayed nothing.

Slowly, carefully, cautiously, we eventually ventured forth to find some sign of him. Suddenly Aaron stopped, wavering as if on the edge of a cliff. With a growing sickness, we pulled away the web-like vegetation that had grown over a deep fissure, stretching across the top like a net. With each tear, with each clump that dropped into the hole, sunlight streamed down to illuminate more of the bottom.

With one last rip, sunlight spotlighted the body of Hugo twisted into a tangle at the bottom of the pit. We called down futilely, even pelted him with pebbles, but he never even twitched.


The loss of Hugo left us stunned for many months (although clinging to our Earthly notion of months in our moonless environment was purely force of habit). It wasn’t just that we lost a friend and companion, but that we had lost a staggering 1/3 of our total population in an instant. It was the realization that no one would follow us. We were all there was and all there ever would be of human life on this planet, and now there was only us two.

The months drifted into years until eventually we banished all timekeeping devices into the deepest bowels of the freighter. We really didn’t want to know how much time was passing us by – it only filled us with despair to be reminded.

We went through indeterminately long periods where we never spoke. We had long since shared every possible idea we could say to each other. Every spoken thought was a tiresome repetition of what we had heard the other say a thousand times before. Each word was another excruciating drop in some fiendish water torture.

So we mechanically passed our days like mindless automations. Thinking only made us miserable. It became difficult to recognize even whether our behavior was sane. We had no social queues except from each other and we both quit caring what the other did long ago.

This total apathy made it all the more peculiar when Aaron sat down next to me one day and asked a question that was most startling in the fact that it was never brought up before.

“Do I look any older to you?” he asked quizzically.

“What?” I asked remotely, lost in my blissful thoughtlessness.

“Under your beard, you don’t look a day older than the day we landed,” he remarked. “Do I look any older to you?”

“Why should you?” I asked in return.

“How long do you think we’ve been here?” he answered with yet another question, seeming to change the subject randomly.

“I don’t want to know,” I told him dismissively.

“It’s been 73 years Earth time,” he stated flatly.

I don’t know how long it took me to assimilate that, or how long it took me to finally respond. When one has nothing but time, even answering questions doesn’t seem very urgent.

“Impossible,” I said eventually.

“I checked,” Aaron assured me. “It has been 73 years, 5 months, and 12 days.”

My inner scientist took over, my mind raced. It was faced with a contradictory set of observations that could not be reconciled without further facts.

“We have to check Hugo’s body,” I said flatly.

Aaron rose and followed me to where we had buried Hugo. Using our hands, we dug up the shallow grave and brushed away the dirt to reveal the corpse of our long-dead shipmate.

We gasped in shock.

The reason for our amazement was exactly the opposite of what one would fear beholding. His body was nearly perfect. It was like a wrinkled, deflated prune due to loss of moisture, but there was no decomposition. There was no mold, no sign that insects or worms had ever defiled the remains.

We sat back and just stared at the remarkable corpse.

“Have you ever been bitten by an insect here?” I eventually asked Aaron. “Even been bothered by one?”

“Have you had any kind of cold or flu since we landed?” he asked, not expecting any answer.


So another false assumption about alien planets was debunked. It was always thought that since humans would have evolved no resistance to alien bacteria, they would decimate any human exposed to them. It turned out to be quite the opposite for us. In our case, this alien world had evolved nothing to endanger us humans. Bacteria, viruses, insects; none of them even seemed to recognize us as living things. It appeared we were immune to any kind of infection this planet had to offer.

As to our apparent lack of aging, Aaron formed some hypotheses about that. He pointed out studies that had demonstrated that aging is largely a designed-in process that can be dramatically slowed or accelerated in response to environmental stresses. Apparently the conditions on this planet, or more precisely the lack of the factors that stimulate our aging chemistry, had essentially halted those processes.

More decades passed and the boredom increased to an almost unbearable level. We tried to remain actively engaged in farming, mechanics, music and art, yoga and meditation, and even many more esoteric pursuits. But it was a never-ending struggle just to come up with any reason to continue living.

Eventually Aaron walked casually out of the ship. Hanging at the end of his arm was a ceramic pistol. There were many such weapons crated in the hold, long given up for lost by their buyers. Occasionally we had taken them out for some recreational target shooting.

But Aaron was not planning any target shooting that day.

“Goodbye James,” he said pleasantly, pausing to give me a sincere and resolved smile before he turned to stroll into the brush. He seemed perfectly sane and lucid.

I could not find it in my heart to stop him. That would only be cruel. Who was I to selfishly insist that he remain alive only to keep me company?

Moments later, the sharp pffft of the air gun resounded across the otherwise quiet valley. The insects momentarily became silent and somewhere in the distance a flock of winged creatures took to flight.

I couldn’t bring myself to attend to Aaron’s body immediately. It would keep.


I really don’t know how much time passed before they arrived. My old notions of time ceased to have any meaning for me. Perhaps my brain had physically adapted to perceive time differently just as I had long since adapted to the 37 hour daily cycle.

Whenever it was, I sensed them approaching my valley long before they arrived. I felt their ripples. Over the uncounted years I had become intimately attuned to all the life in my valley. Every plant, every creature was my family. I watched each generation born and pass on. I knew them all as individuals, helped them. My family warned me of their coming.

Each year the creatures pressed further into my territory. I observed them carefully, first through a telescope and then through binoculars as their annual advancement brought them ever closer.

They were obviously social animals, curious like small mammals. Their family groups bonded together into a greater community. Young ones frolicked playfully but stayed protectively near their parents. Evidently the land they came from held predators which they feared.

The creatures were smooth-skinned and incredibly lithe. Dissection of some recent remains showed that their internal skeleton was composed of something as strong as bone but also extremely flexible. They made peculiar chittering noises that indicated rudimentary vocal communication. I spent my days watching them and learning their ways.

One year I finally decided to approach. They already felt like my own family, a part of my valley. My memories of Earth, even of Hugo and Aaron, were only dim and vague recollections. I recalled that I had once been to a place called Earth. I <thought> it was real, but could no longer be sure if I had perhaps only imagined it.

But the little creatures weren’t elusive memories. They were real and I yearned for them to know me as I knew them.

So each day I approached right up to the edge of their awareness, until they looked my way and chittered anxiously, and there I waited until nightfall. Sometimes I did the same at night. And each week the distance between us contracted ever so slightly.

They little creatures gave me a sense of purpose, of community, that I had never found on this world.


I don’t believe it ever actually occurred to me to play God. I never contrived to alter the normal course of evolution. It was only in my mind to help along the little creatures that I become so fond of.

It started by simply protecting them. Using the pneumatic rifles from the ship, I methodically exterminated the predators nipping at their heels and any new threats that wandered into the vicinity.

Without that pressure to migrate, they seemed content to remain in my valley. I learned their rudimentary language and ever so slowly expanded it, giving preferential care to those with the greatest aptitude.

My efforts paid off well, and each new generation was noticeably more adept with language than the one before. Eventually I began to introduce them to abstract concepts through language.

I gradually taught them how to clean their day to day wounds and how to use local plants to fight infections. Most learned quickly and those that did not learn tended not to survive as long.

Ever so slowly I managed to teach them to cultivate the insect population that they fed upon in a sustainable manner. I taught them to manage their waste and maintain their environment.

Over many, many generations I taught them to make fire and tools and to use them to char their insects so they stored indefinitely. I showed them how to cook the insects along with various plants into soups and porridges that provided better nutrition. Those that learned raised more thriving offspring.

But beyond that, I modeled social skills from the earliest days, starting with a simple demonstration of cooperation in picking parasites off their skin. Little by little, some started to teach those social behaviors to their young.

And yes, there were always some bad actors who displayed antisocial tendencies. I hated to do it, but I had to breed those behaviors out for the good of the community. Typically those individuals would just fall mysteriously dead shortly after their behaviors became evident, creating a helpful superstition that antisocial behavior caused their death…. and in fact it did.


I stepped feebly out of the ship to regard my valley under the moonless sky. My back ached from bending over my labors. I had been hard at work documenting all the technology aboard the ship in a way that my people would understand one day.

The exhausting effort left me feeling like a man of perhaps 80 or more years. It turned out I wasn’t truly immortal after all. I merely aged very, very well.

The delicate tangerine lights dotting the valley below mirrored the myriad of stars above like a clear mountain lake. It brought me great satisfaction to know that my people finally comprehended what the stars are and drew wonder from them as I did, facing  their lighting softly downward to respect grandeur of that panorama.

Some long dead nuclear engineers would have been gratified to know that after so very many years of continuous operation, their fusion cell still hummed along, despite now being powered up to 8% to supply clean energy to the growing population. Over the centuries I had to void the warranty many times over by performing unauthorized maintenance, but fortunately there were ample stores of spare parts, in fact enough to keep the generator running for another few thousand years with the aid of a bit of ingenuity and generous portion of luck.

The fusion core was buried deep within the cavernous ship, which itself was now buried under the mountain of rock forming a great pyramid that overlooked the sprawling city that lay before it. Future archaeologists might conclude that I ordered its construction to satisfy some insatiable egotism, or out of some primitive fear of the afterlife. The truth is that I ordered the century long project as a way to instill an ethic of work and pride in cooperative craftsmanship. It also served the practical function of protecting the precious space vessel and all its precious cargo from natural disasters for use by posterity.

Three million of my adopted children now live in ecologically sound habitats throughout the valleys, and more settlements swell in population all around the globe. Each year throngs leave their workplaces and schools to come to pay homage at my pyramid. I had long since given up trying to assure them that I am not their god, not their almighty father, as my protests only convince them of the contrary.

Although it was never my intent, in the end I am responsible for the selective breeding of an entire civilization of creatures that worship me. But that won’t last much longer. There are far too many for me to manage now. Already I can feel them growing into their own. Soon they won’t need me anymore. They won’t even want me around any longer. Perhaps they will rise up and kill me, to finally rip their cord from the womb of their accidental god.

On that day my work will be done.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

OK this post is outside of my normal blog cycle but I just have to toss up a quick review of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. No worries, no spoilers here, just appetizers!

In a word G.R.E.A.T. Go see it in a theatre where every great movie should be seen.

It was a stylish, seriously tongue-in-cheek load of fun. I did see the recent Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and yes I did love it too. Thought the script was brilliant – the best of the Mission Impossible series in fact. But Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a brilliant piece of writing as well. Plus it also offers fresh, brilliant acting, film-making, costumes, music, and set designs. It’s just fresh and brilliant in so many ways.

themanfromuncleBut perhaps the most brilliant is how well it honors the original show. As most of you probably know, the movie is based on the famous TV show from the 60’s. I remember it fondly as do most guys my age along with other shows of the time like The Avengers, Star Trek, Johnny Quest, and The Wild Wild West. But for those of us with fond memories of these shows, nothing causes a greater feeling of excitement and dread than a remake. We cannot help but form a crushing fear that yet another of our cherished memories will be blasphemed and desecrated like the horrendus Will Smith version of the Wild Wild West television series.

But not so with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. It’s a perfect prequel to the television series. It tells the hitherto unrevealed backstory of the relationship between Napoleon and Illya that has already been cemented by the time the TV series starts off. Henry Cavill captures the distinctively polished secret agent Napoleon Solo to a tee; the mannerisms, the voice, and even the hint of detached humor that touches everything he does. Robert Vaughn would be proud. Armie Hammer is great as Illya also. The filmmaker has spiced him up with a bit of a troubled past, but it was necessary, not inexplicably gratuitous, and works perfectly. Even Hugh Grant is impeccably consistent with a younger Alexander Waverly.

As a fan of the TV show, I couldn’t be happier. My wife Beth did not grow up on the series and she loved it too. It has huge apparent cross-appeal for both men and women. I can’t imagine a better kickoff to a new franchise. Guy Ritchie proves he knows how to inherit a legacy. In the Sherlock Holmes series, he used a “show the audience what Sherlock is planning” technique very effectively. In UNCLE, he employs a similar “show the audience what just happened” sequence with equal effectiveness.

However, I did check Rotten Tomatoes just now and saw it didn’t get great reviews. The fan rating was higher than the critics ratings and that rings true because the normally sedate audience at our local theatre in Manhattan laughed and cheered throughout. Even after the credits finished rolling several groups of people remained just sitting around talking about how wonderful it was. I’ve seldom seen that happen, ever.

If this does not become a franchise I’ll be sadly disappointed. Do I expect it to compete with James Bond? To quote Goldfinger, “No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”

Bravo Penny!

VanessaWe interrupt our regularly scheduled blog topic to gush over the Season Two finale of Penny Dreadful. Of course gothic horror isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if not you are missing some of the finest storytelling, acting, and filmmaking ever produced.

Arguably, a story cannot be truly great if it does not shock the audience in some way. And Penny Dreadful does not wield horror gratuitously but rather as a master surgeon’s scalpel to cut deeply into the soul of the viewer.

One might have worried that Season One was just too good; that the exceptional quality could never be maintained; that the novelty would have worn off; that all the possible shock value had been expended; that Season Two could never hope to thrill the audience like it was their first time.

But Season Two somehow continued to amaze, astound, and even surprise. It works well that the seasons are short, so much like Penny Dreadful novels themselves. If you have not seen the series, stop reading now and go watch it you fool.

The penultimate episode of Season Two opened with an exquisitely brutal confrontation during which Ethan and Vanessa dispatch Pinkerton Agent Warren Roper in a manner that is absolutely mesmerizing in its raw unapologetic brutality. That one could continue to view Vanessa as a relatable and sympathetic victim / heroine after her demonic murder of sadistic Lord Cromwell and then continue to do so after her repeated stabbing of Warren Roper is a testimony to the depth of these characters.

Then in the final episode she walks knowingly into the deadly trap long arranged for her by the devil himself, alone, unprotected, with naked vulnerability. She listens defiantly to his seductive manipulations and eventually draws her lips near his, a faint breath away from a final kiss of surrender, only to snatch it from him with scorn. “Beloved, know your master” she spits at him as she banishes him in spectacular verbal combat.

Is she a sympathetic victim, a mere damsel in distress? Yes, but so much more. And so it is with the entire ensemble cast. They all have tremendous depth and duality of character; all are flawed to the brink of evil yet redeemed all the more profoundly by their nobler qualities.

As Vanessa confronts the devil himself, Victor and Sir Malcom confront their own demons. In a brilliantly parallel sequence, they each battle the horrors and failures of their respective tragic families, each tormented by the very monsters they created.

But since even all that is not near enough drama for Penny Dreadful, Ethan simultaneously confronts the monster within him, and chooses to stop fighting against it and to abandon his chance for love.

We are even treated to another (see here) intimate and powerful conversation between Vanessa and John (paraphrased and abbreviated):

Vanessa: All my life I have fled the darkness only to find myself in deeper darkness still.
John: No matter how far you run from God he is still just ahead waiting for you.
Vanessa: You don’t believe in God.
John: But you do.

Perhaps most surprising is where the writers left the show. It seems to have ended well only for Ferdinand Lyle who has redeemed himself from his duplicity and cowardice. Sembene is dead. As is Miss Poole. Ethan has been shipped off to America shackled in a cage like the animal he is. Victor has taken what refuge he can find in drugs. Sir Malcom is finally aboard ship bound for Africa, taking the body of his son to final rest. John has apparently fled normal society and we see him standing on a boat in the arctic, immune to the cold of death. And Vanessa is left alone, abandoned and purposeless, even forsaken by or at least forsaking her own faith in god.

With the cast so utterly crushed and dispersed, where can the show possibly go from here?

I for one cannot wait to find out. The future will undoubtedly follow the unholy romance between Dorian and Brona, and Hecate will certainly tie in somehow. Hopefully we’ll learn the significance of the scorpion that merged with Vanessa. Beyond that, I am quite happy that I have absolutely no idea what to expect. I will only be surprised if I am not completely surprised by Season Three.

Comic Book Kid

As a kid I had a super power. It was reading comics. And I read lots. I mean lots. I mean like every one ever printed up until that time. And that was a lot. Moreover I read each one many, many times. Not online, but actual ink imprinted upon actual paper. They were best savored at 2 a.m. on a school night under the covers with a flashlight.

During grade school in the 60’s, my friend Mike and I were mentored in superhero comportment by George Reeves in Superman reruns from the 50’s. From our super-secret base in Mike’s garage, we protected South-side Milwaukee from super-villains who were only detectable by means of our super-vision. Equipped with dramatically flowing capes fabricated from advanced bed sheet technology, we tracked them using our super-computer cleverly disguised as an old hub cap and leapt into action to foil their diabolical plans that always seemed to unfold in Mike’s back yard.

Other than George Reeves, superheroes pretty much only lived in comics and in our imaginations. At that time, new comics only appeared on drug store racks every Thursday. I’d make the rounds every week before the new stock even made it to the rack, ready with my 12 cents per copy that I mostly earned by collecting newspapers door-to-door for recycling; old boring paper out, new exciting paper in. I was hit hard by the big financial disaster of ’69 when comic prices jumped to 15 cents.

There was no real “comic collecting” back then. In fact, comics were almost universally seen as even less valuable than old newspapers. Not even suitable for parakeet cage liners. There were no dedicated stores, no conventions, no fan magazines, no web sites, no price guides, no Comic Book Men TV show, nothing. The entire industry around comic collection is a relatively recent invention.

Back then I procured my old comics from Mary’s second-hand store. It was a tiny hole-in-the-wall with all kinds of useless junk and even in that setting Mary didn’t feel that comics deserved to be placed out in public view. She acquired them when she could buy them dirt cheap and tossed them into a box under her cluttered desk that she dragged out for me each Saturday.

Gradually, week by week, my collection expanded organically. I rescued many of the virtually discarded comics from Mary’s box under the desk like they were abandoned kittens, sheltering them in my bedroom where their number grew steadily. To be clear, I never had any intent to collect. My only goal was to discover these precious comics so I could read them over and over and fill in the gaps as I read episodes of mostly forgotten old story lines in random order.

When I started my paper delivery route (again my fortunes were tied to the newspaper industry), I became flush with actual dollar bills every week. I quickly exhausted Mary’s relatively meager supply and discovered the “Old Town” vintage store in downtown Milwaukee. Although ostensibly a “collectable” store, it was really pretty much just an upgraded version of Mary’s second-hand junk store. But they did value comics and had a whole section in back with boxes bulging with them. It was the mother-load of those flat, rectangular gems!

So my Saturdays throughout the 60’s and 70’s routinely entailed trekking west out to Mary’s and then east back across the viaduct to Old Town to spend my paper route money or earnings from subsequent jobs. My collection gradually grew into many thousands of issues. Let’s be clear, my mother was not enthusiastic about this. Every time she ventured into my bedroom she would direct me to “get rid of all this crap.” Somehow I never got around to it. Each one was too valuable to part with. Not because of their monetary value but because they were innately precious. They told long lost stories that needed to be protected. Parting with even one issue in a series would be to leave a hole in a puzzle; a missing page in a larger book.

In 7th grade I augmented my paper route money with a second job as a bus boy at a Vera’s restaurant. That same 7th grade summer Mike and I took a roadtrip to central Manhattan where we visited DC comics where we appeared unannounced and talked ourselves into a personal tour from Carmine Infantino. A waitress at the restaurant introduced me to her son Greg, twice my age, who had also amassed a large comic empire. I became friends with him and he introduced me to a larger world of collecting, buying, and even selling. At that time there was not yet any formal comic market. It was just enthusiasts who mostly knew each other and communicated by letters or phone calls. There were new “fanzines” that were very crudely “published” advertisements from individuals to buy and sell comics between each other.

Comic AdSo, in order to satisfy my comic appetite quicker, I started to buy and sell too. I would sell duplicate issues for comics I needed to fill out my series. That entailed road trips to get together with other collectors to swap directly or typing out ads to publish in a fanzine, describing each item’s individual condition in meticulous detail. As a kid with no adult supervision whatsoever I was engaged in mail-order commerce, fulfilling daily orders for comics, carefully packaging them, and hauling them down to the post office. One had to be scrupulous in all these regards as in this small community one misrepresentation could destroy ones credibility.

Eventually my mom started to realize that these comics were actually worth real money. Suddenly the attitudes about my now barely tolerated collection, then well over 10,000, changed dramatically. Now suddenly it was respectable, even valued. My family quickly subsidized my passion with bookcases and wall-shelving for my bedroom to store all these suddenly precious comics. But I always found this distasteful. To me their worth was purely in their stories, never in their monetary value. I felt scorn for those who only started caring about comics after they became it became popular and lucrative and geeky-sheek to do so.

In fact, as the entire nation woke up to the “value” of comics, as more and more people started to buy them mostly because of their rapidly inflating monetary value, I inverse-proportionately lost interest. After I left home and it became logistically unfeasible to haul around my collection, I finally sold it all off. Collecting is best suited to sedentary types, not college students barely living in one dorm room very long, let alone in any one country.

When Greg bought up the remainder of my collection in one big bulk purchase, my puzzle was virtually complete with every issue, from #1 onwards, of every series printed up to that time. My DC collection went way back to a 1938 issue of Adventure comics and included series that went back as far as Action #10 and Batman #5. At one point I held in my very own hands a “good” copy of Action #1, agonizing over buying it, but I decided to put the $500 that was being asked into other issues. In the relatively recent Marvel world I had every single issue – right back to multiple copies of Spiderman #1, Fantastic Four #1 and the rest.

When I sold off my collection it was just at the start of the skyrocketing price curve. So I didn’t make a fortune my any stretch. But I did make enough profit to help see me through college. Do I regret selling off what would today be an immensely valuable collection? A bit but not really. The thing about collecting is that there is never a good time to sell. If you hold on it will always eventually get more valuable, if not for you for your children.

But making or losing money didn’t matter anyway. What mattered was not the short-term profit my efforts yielded, but the priceless and undying experiences those comics gave me. They instilled me with a “comic book” sensibility and a heroic world-view that I proudly retain to this day.

Back when Mike and I ran around zapping villains in his yard, we dreamed of an impossible future when we might see our heroes portrayed in the movies. We specifically speculated about the possibility of a day when Green Lantern might come to life in a live-action movie, showing off the full capability of his amazing Power Ring. What amazes me is that we lived to see that impossible dream come to life pushing 50 years later. I have to think that comics were instrumental in giving us the imagination to dream that crazy dream and the enduring spirit to remain “true believers” until it became reality.

The Dandelion Project

Dandelion

A Fond Farewell to the Planet

Copyright © 2006 by Tyson Gill

Adrian made one final inventory, carefully confirming each item against the checklist provided. He inserted the payment form into the pre-addressed mailer last, with no trace of hesitation about having spent an entire year of graphic editing work to cover the submission fee. Finally satisfied that nothing had been overlooked, he sealed the package with the reverence of a precious time capsule. Now that it was finally ready to mail, he could hardly bring himself to part with it.

“The postman is coming,” his golden retriever alerted him with a familiar woof.

Securing the package in his lap, Adrian swung his wheelchair around and rolled silently toward the door, tapping the over-sized button open it. A gust of hot, wet air swept in through the doorway, laying siege to the air-conditioners defending the widely spaced entryway.

Against the spectacular backdrop of an angry, storm-crazed sky, the nonchalant approach of the postman might have seemed incongruous were it not an everyday occurrence. The approaching postman adjusted his balance adroitly as the frenetic wind buffeted him from every angle. All in all, it was relatively pleasant weather.

Adrian always wished he could be a postman too, strolling from house to house, warmed and cooled within one of those signature post-office blue all-weather suits. He had read that they were made of high-tech Nanobiotic™ fibers that adjusted automatically to almost any weather condition. But it could never be. The nature of his injury precluded ever being able to even use prosthetics.

“Lovely weather we’re having today eh Adrian?” Mailman Max called when he got close enough to be heard over the wind without shouting. It was Max’s usual greeting. Adrian typically came out to greet him to break up his otherwise humdrum days. In fact he ordered supplies in separate shipments to ensure that daily bit of human contact.

“It’s beautiful,” Adrian confirmed, grinning, as he rolled forward to the outermost fringe of the household climate systems protection.

Max halted, a gust of rain pelting him from out of nowhere, as he regarded the package proudly resting in the lap of the crippled boy.

“That it?” he asked simply, following up with an easy smile.

“This is it,” Adrian announced proudly, holding out the package like a holy offering.

“Right,” said Max. “I’ll send it right off then.”

Max exchanged the precious mailer for a bundle junk mail.

“Don’t worry,“ Max assured the boy as he patted the parcel. “I’ll see to this one personally.”

“Thanks. Maybe I’ll run around some day still,” Adrian whispered, like making an almost sinful admission of improbable hope.

“Maybe you will at that,” Max agreed with a wink.


Max pulled his mail truck up to the massive door of the post office and pressed his entrance card up against the rain-pelted window. He hoped that the card reader would cooperate today because he didn’t want to open the window. The weather had suddenly turned more nasty than usual and he was still suffering from the alternating gusts of frigid and burning air that overwhelmed his all-weather suit before he finally found refuge in his vehicle. People imagined that mail deliverers were always comfortable in their suits, but more often than not the internal regulators just couldn’t respond to the weather fast enough to ever be just right.

After the fourth swipe, the door finally lifted open and Max pulled forward into the garage with relief. The lumbering metal started to lower back down even before his mail truck cleared the entrance. He hopped down from the driver’s compartment, unzipping his suit as he looked around.

“Hey Max-eee!” a familiar voice called his way. “How the fuck you doing bro?”

“Hey Vince,” Max didn’t need to look to know the source of the familiar greeting. “I’m good.”

Vince had already reached the rear of the delivery truck. It was his job to unload the outgoing mail and transfer it to the automated sorter.

“Ouch!” Vince cried out like a cuss as his hand recoiled from the door latch.

“Ya, it’s pissing down hot rain out there,” Max confirmed needlessly.

“Fucking hot rain is the worst,” Vince complained. Whatever the weather was doing at any given moment was by definition the worst to Vince.

Max walked over and looked on as Vince heaved the back open and rolled the mail cart out.

“Saying on the radio that Florida lost another 500 square miles last month,” Max told him by way of small talk.

“Fuck,” Vince commented, pausing to shake his head. “Where is all the fucking water coming from? The fucking north pole is gone but we still ain’t got none to flush a crap.”

“Still lots of ice left in the Antarctic,” Max remarked.

“And we’re spending half the fucking national budget on those fucking see-oh two reduction plants,” Vince spat. “Thought they were supposed to clean up this fucking shit.”

“They are, but it takes time,” Max was used to having the same conversation every day.

“Fuck that,” Vince remarked as he pulled the mail cart toward the clanking sorter. “I don’t think they are doing crap. I think it’s all a croc of shit to keep us from realizing the fucking end of the world is already here.”

“Ya, you’re probably right,” Max always found it easier to just agree with Vince.

“Fucking right I’m fucking right,” Vince agreed wholeheartedly.

Suddenly, Max remembered something and darted back to the truck cab. He snatched a package off the passenger seat and ran to catch back up with Vince.

“Hey V, can you route this one personally? It’s kind of special and I don’t want that old crapper sending it off to Chinese-controlled Russia or something,” Max said, handing him Adrian’s package.

“You got it Max-eee,” Vince assured him, receiving the hand off like a football. “I’ll treat it like my own little baby.”

Somehow that didn’t reassure Max very much.


Sayonara Cheng reached for another package from atop the heaping mail container next to her desk. It had already been a long day and it was not getting any shorter. She had started working at The Dandelion Project as a temp over eight months earlier. Now they employed over 8,000 people doing the same job as her at different processing locations around the world.

It was a good temp job for as long it lasted. Open enrollment was supposed to end in three more months but she heard it would take another six to sort through the backlog. Probably more if submissions kept increasing as quickly as they had been.

Twenty-two million was the magic number. They needed at least that many paying donors to finance the project. They had reached that mark last month and were already at 36.5 million last she heard. Frenzied plans were underway to scale up the whole operation.

Their unlikely success thrust The Dandelion Project into the world spotlight. It graduated overnight from a wacky Internet scheme to a massive and controversial international joint venture. The protesters and picketers didn’t bother her much. Their office didn’t see many violent demonstrations. Sayonara just kept her head down, quietly and unobtrusively processing submission packages.

She opened the next kit, scattering the contents across her desk at the foot of her diet cola. She ignored the ancillary materials and picked out the data stick, deftly inserting it into a worn plug on her terminal.

Sayonara clicked the Import option from the custom application menu. After a momentary hourglass came and went, a graphic popped up on the screen. It was a cute young man, trying to appear as if he wasn’t imprisoned by the wheelchair in which he was obviously confined. His hand waved tentatively in front of a shy smile that made her feel as if he could see her there looking at his video portrait. The caption under the picture read “Adrian Davis, Age 24.” It was followed by a long personal data summary in a scrolling window.

She carefully opened the sample tube and placed it into the DNA Scanner. She absent-mindedly hit Scan Now on a popup menu and the device began to whir and hum softly, sending spectroscopic data to the central supercomputer for analysis. Sayonara used the time, as was her routine, to sip cola and review the notarized legal wavers and agreements.

A discouraging beep made her look up to see the garish  message flashing in red on the screen. That was fast, she thought, oddly disappointed. She had rejected thousands of applications without a second thought so it came as a surprise to her to feel reluctant to have to reject this particular applicant in accordance with her very specific selection protocols.

As she moused-over to select the Reject option, Adrian looked up at her from his wheelchair with renewed hope and longing. Sayonara peered deep into his pixilated eyes and felt as if they exposed his very soul to her. Her finger hesitated, hovering millimeters above the mouse button. She sensed a young man who wanted desperately to get up out of his rolling prison and play among the stars. How could she deny him that chance?

On an impulse, she clicked Accept, Override, and Confirm in rapid succession. She really hoped the auditors wouldn’t catch her on this one but didn’t much care.

“Bon voyage,” she told his image in a conspiratorial whisper.


It was obvious to Edwin Daniels long ago as a student at Cal Tech that global warming had exceeded the critical cascade threshold. No effort, no matter how extraordinary, could prevent atmospheric collapse. The extinction of mankind was imminent and inevitable.

That certainty had caused him to ponder the question; to what worthy cause can Man dedicate itself to even as Death is swinging his scythe? Then it came to him. He envisioned a great cosmic dandelion, releasing its seeds on solar winds far out into the great expanse of space.

He enlisted specialists with far more talent than he to join him in his mad project. His unprecedented plan required impossible advances in materials science, genetics, psychology, robotics, nanocircuitry, and artificial intelligence. If successful, mankind would perish in a glorious supernova of new knowledge and progress.

By force of raw passion and charisma, he organized a brotherhood of scientists who dedicated whatever free time they could manage to the project. They kept a low profile for two decades, working on the fundamental technical challenges in obscurity.

Once his team became relatively optimistic that the key obstacles could be overcome, they launched The Dandelion Project on the World Wide Web to fund development. They had never dreamt that it would capture the imagination and passion of the entire globe as it did. Though they never publicly admitted that this was a doomsday project, people around the world sent in their money and their DNA samples. Their database now contained over 173 million DNA fingerprints.

The Dandelion Project had taken in more money more quickly than any business in history. With it, they spent the next 18 years prototyping, developing, and testing the impossible.

Now, 37 years after the crazy dream first took seed, the project was coming to life without any further need of him. He could finally just relax and watch it unfold.

The daily launches continued despite the mass protests. Now that the deployment had actually begun, many religious leaders toned down their vehement rhetoric. The Chinese government finally gave the project their official sanction, lending the support of the largest and most influential country on Earth. Public relations continued to cite audits by independent auditing firms to quash conspiracy speculations that the DNA lottery was rigged.

Amidst the storms of nature and controversies of Man raging across the globe, the pods continued to launch night and day from locations across the United States, throughout China and its Russian territories, Europe, Australia, Africa, South America, India, and others. Every country was represented in the precious payload.

Edwin watched the television monitors replaying the time-lapse images taken from the international space station and the Moon base. There lay the solitary Earth, dying amidst the unsympathetic darkness of space, flinging thousands of pods out into the eternal blackness. It looked like a great cosmic dandelion, its metal composite seed pods brimming with databases of human DNA, flying out in all directions, going for broke on the longest of odds.

It was an unprecedented event in human history. The supernova of mankind as it died. All of humanity watched and marveled, strangely contented and satisfied as if collectively sharing one last fireworks finale.


“To be truthful, the odds are too infinitesimal to bother calculating. One in a thousand pods might survive millions of years of random collisions with space particulates to find a candidate planet. One in a hundred of those might find conditions compatible with human life. One in ten of those might succeed in re-synthesizing a random DNA record and growing a human clone. One in a score of those clones might survive and grow to into a functional human being. But the odds don’t matter. We are humans and all that matters is that we try. It is the only way that we frail humans can ever explore the universe first hand.”

Adrian looked up from the monitor. He had been watching an interview recorded back on Earth in some incomprehensible time past.

Mother, his robotic parent, stood protectively nearby. Nine years earlier, she had booted up and begun to execute her programming. She had reconfigured the pod into a shelter, acquired raw materials, and replicated a randomly selected sequence from the DNA database. Since then she had protected the child and tutored him in all the age-appropriate data available in their comprehensive Earth library.

“So that was him, Mother? That was the man who sent us here?”

Mother answered him with an exquisitely archetypical motherly voice.

“Yes Adrian that was Edwin Daniels. But many tens of thousands of people worked together to send us here, to our new home. All of humanity wished you bon voyage,”

“But I am all alone,” Adrian said to her. “What good is one person?”

Mother reproduced a tender smile, engaging all the micro-transducers of her synthetic face.

“One human isn’t much good at all,” she told him, squatting down to gaze into his eyes. “But one day soon you will choose another and we will raise her together.”

The boy was about to follow up with another question but Mother gave him a gentle shove.

“Go play now in the grass,” she urged him. “Bring some berries for a snack later.”

Adrian, naked in the warm, gentle air, jumped up and smiled, running off into the field. Animals, vaguely resembling little deer, bounded in around him to join in the romp.

In the pod, Mother set about cooking and cleaning as directed by her AI adaptive processor. On their little table, one old-fashioned picture rested prominently within a homemade frame. It was the still-picture of a young man that looked just like Adrian only older, sitting in a wheelchair and waving to them with wistful contentedness.

The Atheist Monster in Penny Dreadful

Vanessa speaks with John

Vanessa speaks with John

I’d like to share a powerful scene from a recent episode of Penny Dreadful, aired on Showtime on Mother’s Day.

Seeking a measure of solace from her struggles, Vanessa Ives (played by Eva Green) has come to volunteer in a cavernous underground serving as a makeshift cholera ward “in the shadow of so much wealth such suffering” of 19th century London.

There she encounters a horrendously scarred man named John Clare (played by Rory Kinnear). Not incidentally but as yet unknown to Vanessa, John is also the sensitive and articulate “monster” reanimated by the Doctor Frankenstein character in the show.

She notices John reading off in an alcove by himself. Intrigued, she approaches him. After an offer of soup and some preliminary introductions, Vanessa sits next to him.

“They make me nervous,” she confides, nodding toward a woman in a habit. “The nuns.”

“Why?” he asks.

“I was raised in the faith,” she admits. “It was arduous for me.”

“Have you religion?” she asks, changing the subject tangentially.

“Are you offering it?” John counters.

“Do you require it?” she answers with another question, smiling warmly.

“I never have,” he replies.

“Then I shan’t offer,” she reassures him. “And I would be a poor advocate. The Almighty and I have a challenging past. I’m not sure we’re speaking these days.”

A laugh comes awkwardly upon John as he returns a confidence. “I read the Bible when I was younger. But then I discovered Wordsworth. And then the old platitudes and parables seemed anemic, even unnecessary.”

“Mr. Wordsworth has a lot to answer for then,” she teases.

Summoning up deeply considered but rarely spoken words, John elaborates. “The glory of life surmounts the fear of death. Good Christians fear hellfire. So to avoid it, they are kind to their fellow man. Good pagans do not have this fear, so they can be who they are. Good or ill, as their nature dictates. We have no fear of God, so we’re accountable to no one but each other.”

“That’s a profound responsibility,” Miss Ives replies.

“And why you do this, no doubt” he asks, “helping those in need?”

“I came here for selfish reasons,” she confesses. “Do you truly not believe in heaven?”

John’s shy self-consciousness is replaced by a joyful radiance. “I believe in this world. And those creatures that fill it. That’s always been enough for me. Look around you – sacred mysteries at every turn.”

“But no exaltation in life beyond this?” Vanessa challenges, seeking confirmation.

“To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wildflower. Hold infinity in the palm of your hand. And eternity in an hour,” John responds, paraphrasing William Blake’s “To See A World…”

Vanessa looks a bit sad, “With respect to Blake, I see no wildflowers here, only pain and suffering.”

“Then you need to look closer,” John tells her with compelling certainty.

The conversation is interrupted when Vanessa is called away by a nun who casts a disapproving glance at John.

“Thank you for the soup,” he says.

“Thank you for the conversation,” she answers as she takes her leave. And then, pausing to look back, she adds, “You have beautiful eyes.”

I will not attempt to do a deep analysis of this scene. It is so rich with poetic humanist themes that it is best to let every reader take from it what they will. But I will point out how notable this treatment of humanist ideas is, not only in today’s mass media, but in the context of a show in which demons and by inference god are undeniable realities. It suggests that “even if” god were real, there would still be merit in a purely humanist worldview.

It is certainly not an accident that John, shunned as a monster by his society, was chosen to represent the atheist-humanist character in the show. Of more subtle symbolism is that he is undeniably the product of purely human manufacture. Certainly he was not endowed with a soul by his human creator. Yet he is uniquely passionate and thoughtful with an incredibly “soulful” sense of awe and empathy.

On the other side, Vanessa’s deep faith and powerful mysticism have only left her in desperate need of the comfort and inspiring humanist perspectives offered by this apparent monster.