Tag: "Ferrett Steinmetz"

EP396: Dead Merchandise

About the Author…

A firm believer in the “apply butt to chair, then fingers to keyboard” philosophy, Ferrett Steinmetz writes for at least an hour every day – which helps, he promises. He is a graduate of both the Clarion Writers’ Workshop and Viable Paradise, and has been nominated for the Nebula Award, for which he remains stoked.

Ferrett has a moderately popular blog, The Watchtower of Destruction, wherein he talks about bad puns, relationships, politics, videogames, and more bad puns. He is the creator of the most popular and comprehensive online purity quizzes (this one’s for sex, but he’s also done them for roleplaying and Livejournal). He’s written four computer books, including the still-popular-after-two-years Wicked Cool PHP.

He lives in Cleveland with his wife, who he couldn’t imagine living without.

About the Narrator…

Kathy Sherwood resides in a (probably only figuratively) magical forest in North Central Florida, with her significant other, two dogs and two cats.  She also hosts alternative rock show Not Quite Random on 88.5 WFCF–Flagler College Radio.

Dead Merchandise
by Ferrett Steinmetz

The ad-faeries danced around Sheryl, flickering cartoon holograms with fluoride-white smiles. They told her the gasoline that sloshed in the red plastic canister she held was high-octane, perfect for any vehicle, did she want to go for a drive?
She did not. That gasoline was for burning. Sheryl patted her pockets to make sure the matches were still there and kept moving forward, blinking away the videostreams. Her legs ached.

She squinted past a flurry of hair-coloring ads (“Sheryl, wash your gray away today!”), scanning the neon roads to find the breast-shaped marble dome of River Edge’s central collation unit. River’s Edge had been a sleepy Midwestern town when she was a girl, a place just big enough for a diner and a department store. Now River’s Edge had been given a mall-over like every other town — every wall lit up with billboards, colorful buildings topped with projectors to burn logos into the clouds. She was grateful for the dark patches that marked where garish shop-fronts had been bombed into ash-streaked metal tangles.
The smoke gave her hope. Others were trying to bring it all down — and if they were succeeding, maybe no one was left to stop her.

Rotting bodies leered out at her through car windows, where computer-guided cars had smashed headlong into the collapsed shopfronts that had fallen into the road. Had the drivers been fleeing, or trying to destroy the collation unit? She had no idea.
The ad-faeries sang customized praises to each auto as she glanced at the cars, devising customized ditties about the ’59 Breezster’s speed. Sheryl needed speed; at her arthritic pace, walking through the women’s district might tempt her into submission.

Given that the ad-faeries suggested it, driving was a terrible idea. River’s Edge had been so gutted by bombings that she’d have to drive manually — and it was already hard to see through the foggy blur of chirping ad-faeries, each triangulating her cornea’s focal point to obscure her vision for the legal limit of .8 seconds. They elbowed each other aside, proffering chewy pomegranate cookies, diamond-edged razors, laser-guided wall-bots that would paint her house a new color every day.
She had no use for them. She’d burned her house down, leaving Rudy’s body underneath the pile of engraved stones with her sons’ names on them.

She had to pass through the two main shopping districts to destroy the collation center at River’s Edge — and if she did that, then she could free Oakmoor, then Daleton, and then who knows where?  But they’d kill her if she weakened.

EP339 – “Run,” Bakri Says

By Ferrett Steinmetz
Read by Mur Lafferty
Discuss on our forums.
Originally appeared in Asimov’s
All stories by Ferrett Steinmetz
All stories read by Mur Lafferty
Rated 15 and up for violence

“Run,” Bakri Says
By Ferrett Steinmetz

“I just want to know where my brother is,” Irena yells at the guards. The
English words are thick and slow on her tongue, like honey. She holds her
hands high in the air; the gun she’s tucked into the back of her pants jabs
at her spine.

She doesn’t want to kill the soldiers on this iteration; she’s never killed
anyone before, and doesn’t want to start. But unless she can get poor, weak
Sammi out of that prison in the next fifty/infinity minutes, they’ll start
in on him with the rubber hoses and he’ll tell them what he’s done. And
though she loves her brother with all her heart, it would be a blessing then
if the Americans beat him to death.

The guards are still at the far end of the street, just before the tangle of
barbed wire that bars the prison entrance. Irena stands still, lets them
approach her, guns out. One is a black man, the skin around his eyes
creased with a habitual expression of distrust; a fringe of white hair and
an unwavering aim marks him as a career man. The other is a younger man,
squinting nervously, his babyfat face the picture of every new American
soldier. Above them, a third soldier looks down from his wooden tower,
reaching for the radio at his belt.

She hopes she won’t get to know them. This will be easier if all they do is
point guns and yell. It’ll be just like Sammi’s stupid videogames.

“My brother,” she repeats, her mouth dry; it hurts to raise her arms after
the rough surgery Bakri’s done with an X-acto knife and some fishing line.
“His name is Sammi Daraghmeh. You rounded him up last night, with many
other men. He is – ”

Their gazes catch on the rough iron manacle dangling from her left wrist.
She looks up, remembers that Bakri installed a button on the tether so she
could rewind, realizes the front of her cornflower-blue abayah is splotched
with blood from her oozing stitches.

“Wait.” She backs away. “I’m not – ”

The younger soldier yells, “She’s got something!” They open fire.
Something tugs at her neck, parting flesh; another crack, and she swallows
her own teeth. She tries to talk but her windpipe whistles; her body
betrays her, refusing to move as she crumples to the ground, willing herself
to keep going. Nothing listens.

This is death, she thinks. This is what it’s like to die.

#

“Run,” Bakri says, and Irena is standing in an alleyway instead of dying on
the street – gravity’s all wrong and her muscles follow her orders again.
Her arms and legs flail and she topples face-first into a pile of rotting
lettuce. The gun Bakri has just pressed into her hands falls to the ground.

Dying was worse than she’d thought. Her mind’s still jangled with the
shock, from feeling all her nerves shrieking in panic as she died. She
shudders in the garbage, trying to regain strength.

Bakri picks her up. “What is your goal?” he barks, keeping his voice low so
the shoppers at the other end of the grocery store’s alleyway don’t hear.

Why is he asking me that? she thinks, then remembers: all the others went
insane. She wouldn’t even be here if Farhouz hadn’t slaughtered seventeen
soldiers inside the Green Zone.

It takes an effort to speak. “To – to rescue Sammi.”

“Good.” The tension drains from his face. He looks so relieved that Irena
thinks he might burst into tears. “What iteration? You did iterate,
right?”

“Two,” she says numbly, understanding what his relief means: he didn’t know.
He’d sent her off to be shot, unsure whether he’d linked her brother’s
technology to the heart monitor he’d stuck in the gash in her chest. It was
supposed to trigger a rewind when her heart stopped. If he’d misconfigured
it, Irena’s consciousness would have died in an immutable present.

Irena looks back at The Save Point, stashed underneath a pile of crates, a
contraption that’s totally Sammi; it’s several old X-Boxes wired together
with rusted antenna and whirligig copper cups, the humming circuitry glowing
green. It looks like trash, except for the bright red “<<” arrows Sammi
spraypainted onto the side. That, and the fact that it just hauled her
consciousness back through time.

Bakri gives her an unapologetic nod: yes, I sent you off to die. “We can’t
let the Americans get it.”

“No,” she agrees, then runs out to the street, headed four blocks down to
where the prison is. She closes her hands into fists so her fingers don’t
tremble.

She’s been shot. She will be shot again, and again, until she rescues
Sammi.

#

“Run,” Bakri says, and this time she pushes the tether up around her arm –
it’s wide enough to slide up over her bicep, underneath her abayah’s
billowing sleeves – but the guards are panicky. They shoot her when she
crosses the chain they’ve strung across the road to the prison entrance.

God damn you, she thinks. I’m not like Sammi. I don’t want to kill you.
But they’re terrified of what Fahrouz did. He cut the throats of seventeen
men before anyone heard him; it’s why the Americans rounded up anyone who
had any connection to the resistance last night, including her brother.
They think Fahrouz was a new breed of super-soldier; they believe any brown
face is capable of killing them. But she’s just a girl who’s never fired a
gun, not even in Sammi’s stupid videogames.

“Run,” Bakri says.

She tries climbing the high fence around the prison, but the barbed wire
rips at her hands and the guard on the wooden sniper platform scans the
prison every sixty seconds. He is inhuman, never tiring (at least in the
fifty minutes she has before The Save Point’s power fades and she’s pulled
back to the alleyway) – and his aim is infallible. He introduces her to the
horror of her first headshot; when she reappears in the alleyway, her brain
patterns are so scrambled she has a seizure.

“Run,” Bakri says.

She tries different approaches; she smears her face with blood, yelling
there’s a shooter in the marketplace. She weeps, approaching as a mourner.
She sneaks from the shadows. Anything to avoid killing them. They yell
that they have orders to open fire on anyone crossing the line. Though they
wince when they pull the trigger, open fire they do.

“Run,” Bakri says.

She tries prostrating herself upon the ground. As she kneels to place her
hands on the concrete, the tether slides down her arm. The sudden movement
causes them to fire.

“Run,” Bakri says.

She’s getting good at dying, now. The trick is to go slack, so you don’t
flail upon waking when you rewind. Yet surrendering to her body’s shutdown
is like dying before she’s dead. And every time she returns, Bakri’s
grabbing her with his sweaty palms, demanding to know her goal.

“Stop it.” She slaps his hands away. She shakes the iron bracelet at him;
things inside it rattle. “You gave me a tether that looks like a damn bomb.
No wonder they’re shooting me! You have to restart it – Sammi made a tether
you could bite down on, so no one could see – ”

“That one broke when they shot Fahrouz in the head,” Bakri snaps back.
“You’re lucky I could build any tether at all. You’re lucky I’m here.
Everyone else thinks this machine just drives men mad. They want Sammi to
die.”

The stitches from where Bakri implanted the heart monitor never stop
hurting, her gashes always bleeding in the same way. She’s always thirsty;
her body can never relieve itself as she loops through the same time again
and again. She gorges herself on stolen drinks from the marketplace between
the alleyway and the prison – but then she’s back with Bakri, dryness
tickling the back of her throat. Why didn’t she drink before Bakri started
this? Why didn’t anyone tell her to start the Save Point when she was lying
down, so she wouldn’t keep falling over?

“Run,” Bakri says. She wishes she could tell Sammi about her improvements.
All this hard-earned knowledge, lost.

It becomes a game of inches. The babyfaced soldier is hair-trigger, ripping
her body to shreds the moment anything unexpected happens – oh, Fahrouz, you
put the fear of God into these Americans, you were only supposed to steal a
laptop – but he’s also a softie, arguing with his older compatriot if she’s
crying. The older black man is hard-edged, by the book; he yells that he
will shoot if she comes two steps closer, and he always does.

Sometimes the babyfaced one vomits as she’s dying. The soldier on the
wooden sniper platform always looks down like a distant God, crossing
himself as she bleeds out.
Then Bakri, asking her what her goal is.

“Run,” Bakri says.

She doesn’t always die. She can usually get to the button on her wrist.
But dying never gets easier. Her mind understands what will happen; her
body cannot. No matter how she steels herself for the bullet, her body
overwhelms conscious thought with dumb animal terror.

“Run,” Bakri says.

She learns to optimize. If she’s crying this way to tug on the younger
one’s emotions, and creeps that way when the older soldier’s busy bickering
with the young one that they can’t help, then how far can she get before
they fire? There’s a wet newspaper flattened against the street, then a
tire track a little further, then a rusty coil of barbed wire next to the
entrance. She can get past the newspaper consistently, nearly getting to
the tire track before they blow her apart; what can she say that will get
her to the barbed wire?

“Run,” Bakri says.

Their conversations become monotonous variants: Sir, she needs help. We
have orders, soldier. Nothing she can do will make them discuss the
weather, or tell her what cell her brother’s in, or even smile. Just the
same recycled topics, chopped into different words. It reminds her of home,
listening to Sammi outwit AI guards and their recycled vocabulary, back when
Sammi built bombs and played videogames.

“Run,” Bakri says. Now she can always hit the tire track.

Sammi always played videogames. He hated going outside. He got political
at thirteen after Mother was blown apart by a smart missile programmed with
the wrong coordinates. Even then, Sammi never placed the bombs. He just
handed people boxes of death, with instructions where to place them. Irena
remembers how he’d tinker with his explosives and then play first-person
shooters to relax, as though they were aspects of the same thing.

“Run,” Bakri says.

Sammi was a genius with wires. When the Americans jammed the cell phones he
used to activate his bombs, Sammi set the bombs to go off fifteen minutes
after the cell phone signal cut out. And when the Americans got a jamming
device that fuzzed the signal but didn’t kill it, he switched to proximity
sensors. Then he started working on other sensors – sensors that predicted
when people would walk by, sensors that sent signals back to twenty seconds
before they were disconnected.

By the time he was seventeen, bombs bored him. He started other
experiments.

“Run,” Bakri says. Now she’s consistently past the tire track, her fingers
halfway to the barbed wire.

She’d gotten janitorial jobs for Sammi’s volunteers, after they’d finished
their trial runs with The Save Point. They made lousy employees. They
knocked over cups of coffee and stared at the spill for minutes, then sobbed
in relief.

Irena understands why, now. They were grateful the spill stayed. Something
remained changed – unlike her thirst, unlike the gash in her side, unlike
the endlessly soft-hearted boy soldier and his hard-assed sergeant.

“Run,” Bakri says. Now her fingers always touch the barbed wire. Now she
knows how to die.

Now she fires the gun when they’re perfectly distracted. She aims for the
young one first because he shot her first, it’s only fair; the gun’s kick
almost knocks it from her hands. She fires three more times, gets lucky,
the third shot catches him in that babyface, a wet red fountain, and as he
tumbles to the ground she laughs because she’s no longer scared.

She knows why Fahrouz killed seventeen soldiers. He was just supposed to
get a laptop and get out, but how many times was he beaten before he slipped
past the spotlights? How long did he endure the fear of being shot before
he realized the Save Point erased all consequences? The guards’ dumbstruck
surprise as she kills them is the repayment for a thousand torments they can
never remember.

“Run,” Bakri says. She does, now, eagerly. She’s going to kill them as
many times as they killed her.

#

Irena realizes she’s drifting off-mission when she starts shooting Bakri in
the face.

She didn’t mean to shoot him; it’s just that Irena had gone down in a
particularly bad firefight with the soldiers, one where they’d shot her left
arm before tackling her to the ground, and she’d barely jammed the
tether-button against the pavement before they hauled her off to prison.
And she’d fallen over again once she’d rewound, and Bakri’d grabbed her and
yelled “What is your goal?” and she yelled that her goal was to shut him up
and she shot him.

It was a good idea, as it turns out. She needs to shoot well, and
firefights aren’t a good time for lessons. So when Bakri says “Run,” now
she walks down the alley, takes aim, and shoots Bakri in the head. The
marketplace shrieks when they hear the gun, but she just empties the clip at
a garbage can and presses the tether-button.

“Run,” Bakri says.

Bakri should be the one running, but he doesn’t know. He’s always
surprised. If her first shot doesn’t kill him, he weeps apologies.

“Run,” Bakri says. Then, once she jams the gun into his belly, he blubbers:
“I know I should have told you the heartbeat monitor might not work. But
you might not have done it then – we can’t let Sammi’s ideas fall into their
hands!”

She doesn’t care about that. That was weeks ago.

“You drove him insane, didn’t you?” she asks. “He wanted to stop, didn’t
he?”

“Him who?” Bakri is dumbfounded. Fahrouz was just yesterday for him, and
already he’s forgotten. She shoots him.

“Run,” Bakri says.

She feels a pang of guilt once she realizes that Bakri might not even know
what he did. Yet she knows what happened all the same: they told Fahrouz he
had to get the laptop, and condemned him to God knows how many cycles of
breaking into the Green Zone until he returned with one. Bakri and Sammi
would never have turned it off until Fahrouz brought them results.

The machine doesn’t drive people mad. Its controllers do.

“Run,” Bakri says.

She tortures Bakri for a while, trying to get him to turn off The Save
Point. He won’t, and she can’t break him in fifty minutes. Bakri knows
Sammi will reveal The Save Point’s mechanisms once they start in with the
serious interrogations. He tells her he’d die a thousand times before he
let the Americans have this technology.

“Run,” Bakri says.

“Run,” Bakri says.

“Run,” Bakri says.

Irena gets up to three hundred and seven deaths before she takes Bakri at
his word.

She thinks about shooting The Save Point to end it all. But Bakri barely
got it working, and Sammi’s told her there’s a shutdown sequence. What if
she unplugs it and everything freezes but her? Her brother’s technology is
as vicious and unpredictable as Sammi himself. She doesn’t dare.

Her aim’s improved, though. She stops shooting Bakri and goes off to start
in on the soldiers again. She’s getting closer; she can catch the sniper on
his wooden tower one time out of three now, and she almost always kills
hard-ass or babyface. Though she’s shot them enough that she thinks it’s no
longer their fault.

It’s the damn machine. It puts them into position like chess pieces. If it
wasn’t for the machine, they could see the sunset, quench their thirst with
lemonade, do something other than be railroaded into a shootout. The
machine reduces them to inputs and outputs.

Was Sammi ever angry?

She doesn’t think so. That thought slides under her skin like a splinter as
she re-runs the four blocks to the prison. When her mother died, Irena
didn’t have time for anger. She had to feed her family. She hustled
pirated DVDs, worked tables, whatever it took. But she cried when no one
was looking.

Sammi never cried. He just played videogames and built bombs. She’d yelled
at him for playing the Americans’ videogames, but he went on about how
well-designed they were.

“Run,” Bakri says.

As she runs, she remembers a conversation: “Does it ever bother you that
your bombs kill people?” she’d asked Sammi one night, as he harvested yet
another X-Box for parts.

“That’s the goal,” he agreed, not looking up.

“No, but. what if it kills the wrong people?”

“Bound to happen.” He plucked a chip out, held it to the light.
“Sometimes, people are in the wrong place.”

Irena flushed with anger. “Mother was in the wrong place.”

He frowned, seemed to notice her for the first time. “Well, yes.” He
cocked his head and squinted at her, confused. “She was.”

“Run,” Bakri says. Those four blocks are getting longer.

She’d told herself she couldn’t judge Sammi’s genius by the standards of
other people. Besides, the bombs paid for their apartment. But now,
running, she wonders: did Sammi make bombs to avenge his dead mother? Or
was it a convenient excuse to make things that interested him?

“Run,” Bakri says. She’s always running for Sammi.

And by luck more than skill, she finally shoots all three. Clean headshots.
They fall to the ground, the sniper toppling from his roost.

Irena stands over their bodies, dumbfounded. I’m just a girl, she thinks.
How did I kill three wary soldiers? Then she remembers how long she’s been
doing this. Months. Maybe years.

She’s almost forgotten what she’s supposed to do now. She searches the
older soldier’s body for the key, praising God that this is just a holding
location – a real prison would have thumbprint scanners and cameras – and
she wonders why reinforcements aren’t charging out of the gates. Then she
realizes: this has all taken perhaps ninety seconds in their time. Nobody
knows yet.

She flings open the door to see a dank prison lobby in dreary bureaucrat
beige, plastic bucket seats and buzzing fluorescent lights and a battered
front desk. A receptionist sits at the desk – not a soldier, a local boy in
an American uniform, looking strangely out of place. He glances up,
surprised, from a phone call.

“Where is Sammi?” She smiles. It’s been so long since she had a new
conversation.

She aims the gun at him. He puts down the phone.

“S-Sammi?” he stammers. She’s surprised he doesn’t know already, then
remembers this is all new to him. It’s a pleasant reminder that the whole
world hasn’t been reduced to Sammi’s Save Point.

“Samuel Daraghmeh.”

“He’s.” He looks it up. “In cell #8.”

“And that is where?”

He points down a hallway with trembling fingers. She presses the gun barrel
to his temple, whispers in his ear:

“If you alert anyone, I will kill you every time from now on, and you will
never know why.” She removes the gun from his holster, shoots the phone.
She hears a wet dribble on the tile as he pees himself.

The prisoners see the young girl with the gun walking through the halls.
They rise, bruised and bleeding, begging her to save them. Their words are
canned. They will say the exact same thing whenever she returns. She
ignores them.

The guards inside don’t wear bulletproof vests, making this easy. The
prisoners cheer as she fires.

And there, bunched in with ten other sweaty, beaten men, is Sammi. He looks
miserable; the other men have crowded him out until he’s perched on the
dog-end of a cot. His lower lip sticks out as he stares at a urine stain in
the corner, so concerned with his own fate that he hasn’t even noticed the
other men cheering. No wonder she has to rescue him. He’s supposed to be
reclined in a La-Z-Boy, a game controller in hand, not in a place where
people actually get hurt.

She motions the other prisoners aside, presses her face against the rusted
bars. “Have you ever seen one of your bombs go off?”

He registers the voice, not the words, jumping up with the same boyish
thrill he gets whenever he beats a final boss. “Irena!” he shouts, running
to the bars. His eyes well with tears of relief.

She unlocks the cell door. “The rest of you run,” she tells them. “I need
to talk to my brother.”

“Irena.” Sammi’s chest heaves. “I knew you’d come for me.”

“Always. But listen. Bakri is dead.” That much, she thought, was true;
she’d taken to strangling Bakri and burying his body under the garbage as a
matter of routine. “How do you shut down the machine?”

“Oh, it’s better than I’d thought,” he says, eyes shining. “You’re a part
of my project! How many iterations did it take to get in? A thousand? Two
thousand? You must have improvements.”

“I do,” she agrees. “I want to understand how it works. Tell me how to
exit the loop.” He does. It’s simpler than she’d thought.

She hugs Sammi.

“You did it,” she whispers. “Your machine is perfect. It makes an
untrained girl into an unstoppable killer.”

He squeezes her in triumph. She lets him ride his moment of absolute
perfection, judging when her brother is happiest. Then she jams the gun
against the base of his neck and pulls the trigger.

His face explodes. She clutches his body until it ceases quivering. Then
she drops him.

Should she be sorrier? She probes her numbness and feels nothing. She
shrugs, starts the walk back to The Save Point to shut it down and dismantle
it.

It’s not until she gets to the lobby that the tears come. It takes her a
moment to understand what’s triggering them. From under the desk she can
hear the muffled sobbing of the receptionist. He must have hid when the
prisoners escaped. She stops long enough to tug him out, struggling, from
the desk, then embraces him tightly. He shivers, a frightened bird, as she
nuzzles him, wetting his shoulder with tears.

“I don’t have to kill you,” she says, smelling his hair, feeling his
clothes, loving him more than anyone she’s ever loved before.

My Problem With Graphic Novels (Part 1 of 2)

The following is part one of a two-part piece on graphic novels. It contains spoilers for several graphic novel series… serieses… whatever. The most recent one is Buffy Season 8, but many older ones are included as well. Read at your own risk.

#

The cover for the Star Trek: Mirror Universe graphic novel.

I have a problem with graphic novels.

When I was a kid, I read a lot of comics — some superhero stuff, some Archie stuff, whatever looked cool at the comic shop, and of course a bit of Star Trek because, you know, it’s me. Later, as comics started to cost more and more*, I got out of the habit of reading them. I’d pick up an occasional collection, such as the Star Trek Mirror Universe saga, or I’d get a multi-issue run such as “The Worst of Both Worlds”, but for the most part… no more comics for me. I was too busy spending my pocket money on books.

I preferred books. Books were $6 (for a mass-market paperback), and they had hundreds of pages, and if there were no pictures… well… that was fine with me, because I could use my imagination. I could fill in the visual blanks using cover images and my own experiences**. And books took longer to read, too — a 350-page novel would last me a week or two, whereas a 32-page comic book took all of fifteen minutes to read.

Now, a lot of my friends who are comic readers say it’s not just about the story. They tell me the art is important. And yeah, they’re right, the art is important. But not to me.

Let me explain.

I'm specifically referring to the top-right panel. (Click to enlarge.)

When I read a graphic novel, I rarely notice the nuances of the artwork. I’m far more interested in reading the story and finding out what happens next. Often that does happen via artwork, especially in sequences void of dialogue or narration. But for the most part, there’s text. As a short-story/novella writer, what I care about is the storyline. While I totally appreciate great artwork, if it’s just there as a reaction shot, I’m less appreciative.

Let’s take a panel from “Twilight, Part 1″***, issue 32 of Buffy Season 8, written by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Georges Jeanty, Andy Owens, and Michelle Madsen****. Specifically, the panel that references the iconic scene in Superman where Lois says “You’ve got me? But who’s got you?” At this point in the story, Buffy has gained superpowers and she and Xander are trying to figure out just how powerful she is. At the bottom of a cliff in Tibet, Buffy throws Xander into the air as he calls back to that line, then zips to the top of the cliff to catch him. The panel itself depicts the cliff, a temple at the top where Oz lives, and Xander in the sky with “YOOOOOOoooooooooou?!” breaking vertically out of his word bubble.

Yeah. Really.

Maybe that sort of thing works for some people, but for me it was just silly. For me, I might have better appreciated something like this:

Without warning, Xander jumped into Buffy’s arms. He recognized the mischievous look in her eye and, honestly, it worried him a little bit.

More than a little bit.

“What are you doing?” she asked him, smiling.

Xander didn’t really like the smile — he had a sinking feeling she was going to do something Slayer-like. But he’d committed to the part, and he had to say the line now. “You’ve got me?” he quoted. “Then who’s got you–!”

The last word was a howl as Buffy flung him into the air. He watched the cliff go past, then Oz’s temple — was someone waving at him? — then the treetops, and then he was more stories up than he’d care to count.

As his ascent slowed, something from Geometry class popped into the back of Xander’s mind. Something about parabolas.

He stopped rising.

He started falling.

Well, he thought, at this point, screaming will do me absolutely no good.

He screamed anyway.

The ground was looking awfully close.

And so was Buffy. Who caught him easily in her arms, bounced a little, and smiled. “Hat trick,” she said.

Now, to me that’s got far more impact than actually seeing it happen on the page. Maybe if Season 8 had been televised, and they’d done this on screen, I would’ve appreciated the visual impact, but to my mind action sequences really don’t work in comic form. Plus they have all those Adam West-era Batman sound effects. Like my personal favorite, KPOK!, which some Klingon somewhere will someday read and be pretty ticked off about the misuse of his name.

Admittedly, writing action sequences can be tough; I’ve struggled with fight scenes from time to time — I recently wrote one about two martial artists trying to see who’s better, and I inevitably found myself getting sucked into the witty dialogue at the expense of the ass-kicking — but they can be done well. In Laurell K. Hamilton’s latest Anita novel, Hit List (click the link for my review), I mentioned that the action sequences were well-written and well-paced. Sean McMullen pulls it off admirably in the battle sequences in his Moonworlds saga. And of course we’ve heard it on the various Escape Artists casts — anyone remember the squid combat of Ferrett Steinmetz’s “As Below, So Above”? But when you’re writing an action sequence, you only have to concentrate on transcribing what you see in your mind. When you’re writing the action sequence in a graphic novel (or comic), you have to pick specific points in the action to depict.

I don’t want to see specific points. I want to see the whole thing. And, for me, comics just can’t pull it off.

A battle between the Rebels and the Death Star. Even in 1977, it looked better on film.

Plus, action sequences in comics are sometimes… well… boring. Who needs to see two or three pages of your main characters fighting each other? There’s no story there. There’s no real advancement of the plot. Maybe there’s some “scuffling for the superweapon-of-doom” that you might also see on TV when the good guy kicks the bad guy’s gun away but then has to get to it in order to kill the bad guy… but otherwise, to me it’s just meh. If I’m watching a fight scene on TV or in a movie, it’s maybe two minutes of moves before the plot moves along and someone wins. Occasionally it goes longer — especially if it’s a Boss Fight, or we’re seeing a space battle. But jeez… compared to the video version of a space battle, even if you’re only watching it on a four-inch phone screen, a comic just can’t stand up to that kind of action. You can just do so much more.

I realize it’s a limitation of the medium, one that the artists and writers work valiantly to overcome, but really… there’s a lot more to Kirk blasting the Reliant than a bright orange line and the words ZZZZZAP!!! in bold, colorful letters somewhere on the panel.

#

In the second part of this article, I will move from action sequences and general discussion about art to the way comics make me feel… or don’t.

#

* I picked up some older comics to read on my iPad, and all the covers say $2.99. That’s for a 32-page book. My friend Chrome, who reads a lot more comics than I do, says prices these days are still the same, but that some books go up to $4.99. Too rich for my blood.

** Someone remind me later to write an article about how we perceive fictional characters we’ve never seen before. I’m on a roll right now and can’t stop to make notes.

*** The episode is rather-cleverly subtitled “Buffy Has F#©$ing Superpowers”. It’s one of the best issues in the entire run of the comic.

**** Letterers: Richard Starkings and Albert Deschesne. Never let it be said that I don’t credit everyone.

EP331: Devour

By Ferrett Steinmetz
Read by Dave Thompson
Discuss on our forums.
An Escape Pod Original!
All stories by Ferrett Steinmetz
All stories read by Dave Thompson
Rated 15 and up for language, brief sexual imagery, brief violent imagery

Devour
By Ferrett Steinmetz

“I want some water,” Sergio says.  The bicycle chains clank as he strains to
put his feet on the floor.

Sergio designed his own restraints.  He had at least fifteen plumbers on his
payroll who could have installed the chains – but Sergio’s never trusted
anything he didn’t build with his own hands.  So he deep-drilled gear mounts
into our guest room’s floral wallpaper, leaving me to string greased roller
chains through the cast-iron curlicues of the canopy bed.

“You’re doing well, Bruce,” he lied, trying to smile – but his lips were
already desiccated, pulled too tight at the edges.  Not his lips at all.

I slowed him down; I had soft lawyer’s hands, more used to keyboards than
Allen wrenches.  Yet we both knew it would be the last time we could touch
each other.  So I asked for help I didn’t need, and he took my hands in his
to guide the chains through what he referred to as “the marionette mounts.”