Friday, August 29, 2008

Read All About It!

The third installment of CAPES, COWLS & COSTUMES, my column for Bookgasm.com about superhero tie-in novels is up and running so please stop by and check it out: This time around, I take a look at comic book movie novelizations. Even without CC&C, Bookgasm is a must-read site...I'm just some icing on the cake.

A Kid Named Merlin Barnstorm Noble Gleeznak Riboflavin Shakespeare Krebbs-Part 2

Taking up a dare from his friends, young Merlin Krebbs now finds himself locked inside a rocket full of corn flakes speeding towards his planet's sun (or you can just read it, here). Boy, is he sorry now he didn't listen to his parents!


WAYSTATION
© Paul Kupperberg


chapter one (continued)

They probably knew what had happened to him by now. His friends, who had witnessed the ship blasting off from the Factory spaceport with Merlin onboard, had likely spent a few hours debating whether or not to tell what had happened. But in the end, they would’ve done the right thing. Which meant that Mom and Dad were, even now, both worried sick and angry as all get out. No, this would definitely not go over well with them, especially in light of their family discussion, just the night before, about Merlin's chronic lack of responsibility. They’d forgive him, of course...

...If he got out of this alive.

For the six hundred and twenty-seventh time since the ship’s massive steel hatch had slammed shut behind him and he had been slammed to the floor by the tremendous g-force of lift-off, Merlin looked desperately around the cargo hold. There had to be a way out of this, he thought. Humanity had been travelling in space for... well, a real long time. Thousands of years. Merlin wasn’t sure exactly how many thousands, but it was a lot of them. And in all that time, it had become routine, so there had to be a way to...to do something in his current situation. A way to steer. A radio to call for help. Something!

There had to be, but, really, there wasn’t. Not in this ship. Why would there be? It was never intended for anything but hauling surplus corn flakes to the sun for incineration. No one was supposed to be on board. Especially Merlin.

“Why’d I ever take Waldorf’s dare?” he groaned. He knew better than to be fooling around at the spaceport. How many times had his father warned him? “Don’t go fooling around at the spaceport,” his father would say. “It’s dangerous.”

Well, d’uh!

But Waldorf kept teasing him, calling him a scaredy-kilcth. “C’mon, Merl,” he said as they sat on the apron of the spaceport on their duocycles with the rest of the gang, looking up at the huge cargo ship that was still being loaded with corn flakes. “All of us have been inside one of ‘em. Except,” he said, giving Merlin a meaningful look, “you.”

Even as he dismounted from his duocycle, Merlin knew this was a bad idea. He still knew it as he looked into the grinning faces of his pals, and grew even more certain of it as he edged his way towards the waiting ship. The enormity of the sheer badness of this entire idea only grew as he slipped around the robo-loaders dumping ton after ton of corn flakes into the cargo hold and glanced back at his waiting friends. They had all done this and they were all okay.

Any yet...this was still a bad idea on so many levels.

“Just because everyone else jumps off a building doesn’t mean you have to as well,” his mother had often said to him.

Except, when you’re fourteen years old, you kind of do have to.

Or be branded a scaredy-kilcth and spend the rest of high school the object of mockery, various varieties of wedgies, frequent Wet Willies, and the occasional but painful beating.

So, Merlin took a deep breath, crossed his fingers and, hoping for the best but expecting the worst, climbed into the great ship. He figured hanging inside by the hatch for a full ten second count before jumping out should do the trick.

He had just silently mouthed the number five when the hatch closed.

Which brought him, true to Mom’s wisdom and Dad’s warnings, to a collision course with the sun.

Because he was a total weiner, more afraid to tell his friends he was afraid than he was afraid of something like, oh...this happening.

Because of corn flakes and his having the misfortune of being born and raised on a whose sole purpose was making flakes for this sector of the universe. Huge colony and factory ships had been sent out ahead of the settlers bound for neighboring Sectors to settle Riboflavin and begin the immediate production so as to have boxes of breakfast food ready for shipment to every newly settled planet within a thousand lightyears as soon as the colonists landed.

Just about every major company of everything from soft drinks to clothing to pet food owned manufacturing planets in every corner of the Known Universe. Wherever there were to be humans, there’d also be a market for consumer products. It had been done this way since mankind had begun its migration to the stars.

The Riboflavin team had landed, and even as the massive factory-cities were being constructed from the starships that had carried them across the thousands of lightyears from Earth, began planting every farmable acre of the planet's fertile surface with genetically enhanced corn. The orders from the home office were to begin immediate and full production in each of the six factory cities and keep it going.

Riboflavin's factories did as they were ordered...

... And the corn flake planet never heard from the home office again. No word to cease production. No orders on what to do with the corn flakes they had already—and continued—to produce. Nobody called. Or came to tell them to wrap it up, show's over, everybody go home, thank you very much.

So for six hundred Terran Standard years Riboflavin made corn flakes. Tons and tons of them, every day. Pretty soon, there was no place left to put them, which lead some brilliant committee to come up with the idea of building huge transport ships to rocket the massive overload of flakes into the sun. Ever since he was four years old, Merlin wondered why they had not instead:

(1) Just stopped making corn flakes altogether, or
(2) Built ships to take everybody home...or send even someone to Earth for instructions.

But when he had asked his parents about this, his father—a quality control inspector in Plant 17, Flaketown-4—had simply fixed him with a disapproving frown and said, "Because corn flakes is the reason Riboflavin exists, and following instructions from the home office is the way we do things around here, young man. Now finish your flakes and get yourself to school!"

Right.

So, he was millions of miles out in space, on his way to becoming a crispy critter in the heart of the sun. Merlin had to admit that, as bad as he always believed his life was, he had finally hit the absolute bottom on the “life sucks” meter.

There was something strangely comforting about that thought. At least he was off Riboflavin and would never have to spend another boring second thinking about boring corn flakes. And, once the air in the ship gave out, it would probably be over pretty quickly anyway. It wasn’t much comfort, true, but it was better than nothing.

Well, you know, other than the situation being hopeless.

And that was the thought that ran through Merlin’s head as a Slarkbogger Salvage-Destroyer came up behind the sun-bound cargo ship and trained its massive ion-cannons on its tail.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Kid Named Merlin Barnstorm Noble Gleeznak Riboflavin Shakespeare Krebbs-Part 1

Here's the first half of the first chapter of a silly science-fiction young adult book I was playing with several years back. The rest of the chapter tomorrow:


WAYSTATION
© Paul Kupperberg


chapter one
"I am in deeep trouble!"

Merlin Barnstorm Noble Gleeznak Riboflavin Shakespeare Krebbs had a lot of reasons for making what was probably one of the all time biggest understatements to ever be uttered in Known Space. Considering the number of inhabited planets and the width and breath of their locations across the cosmos, that was quite an understatement indeed. But the enormity of his comment was the last thing on Merlin’s mind. He was way more concerned with the reasons for it. Like, for instance:

He was trapped in the hold of a robot cargo ship filled with one hundred thousand metric tons of corn flakes.

A robot cargo ship that was locked on a collision course with Riggit-14, the star around which his home planet, Riboflavin, orbited.

A collision course that, even if he could break out of the hold, was the very purpose for which the ship had been built.

A purpose which meant that the ship was built without any controls he might get to in order to override the auto-pilot.

And even if there were any controls capable of overriding the auto-pilot, Merlin, at fourteen years old and with no experience at piloting anything more complicated than his duocycle through the streets of Flaketown-4, wouldn’t have been able to figure out how to operate them.

In other words, Merlin was in deeep trouble.

Which, unfortunately, seemed to be the story of his life.

Starting with his having been born on what was probably the worst planet in the whole Known Universe, Riboflavin. The corn flake planet. The forgotten corn flake planet. A planet Merlin hated more than even homework. He knew, of course, that there were other planets in the universe, including Earth, from which the ancestors of everyone on Riboflavin had migrated over six hundred Terran Standard Years ago. To make corn flakes. But he was willing to bet his entire collection of magno-ball cards that none of them were as boring, as totally and completely devoid of anything of any interest whatsoever as Riboflavin.

Where all anybody did was make corn flakes.

Come to think of it, Merlin hated corn flakes more than even homework. And Riboflavin.

But, right now, Merlin would have eaten a whole truckload of corn flakes and done a whole school years worth of homework on Riboflavin just to be off this ship and back home with his parents.

His parents!

Merlin groaned and slapped his head as he thought of his mom and dad. “They’re gonna kill me,” he moaned.

Which was, of course, silly. Merlin was shortly going to be dead and incinerated in the fiery heart of Riggit-14 and therefore well out of the murderous reach of his parents.

to be continued...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Getting Down to the Last Bits of a Book I'll Probably Never Write

I've run a couple of pieces from a Superman novel (here and here) that I started playing around with, mostly just to get the words down on paper. Here's some more:


SUPERMAN: THE END OF TIME
Superman and all related elements © 2008 DC Comics
SUPERMAN: THE END OF TIME © 2008 Paul Kupperberg

Chapter 1/ Smallville (Continued)

When the first calls came in, Doug Parker was only wishing he were home in bed.

Chief Parker yawned loudly in the dark silence of the police cruiser and scrubbed vigorously at his face with both hands. It was late, he knew, but he was afraid to check his watch to find exactly how late. Douglas Parker was no night owl, not by any stretch of the imagination, and even if he were, Smallville would not be the place anyone with any common sense would prowl looking for action. Of any sort. The old joke about the town that rolled up its sidewalks at sundown had probably originally been told about Smallville.

Smallville, dead set in the heart of Kansas, was just a small town supporting a larger surrounding farming community, nothing but miles and miles of neatly arranged and carefully tended fields of corn, wheat and soy, worked by farm families who were asleep in bed just behind the sun every night and awake ahead of the following dawn. Parker remembered dragging himself out of bed at 4:00 a.m. to do his chores before school, swearing to himself then and there that no matter what else he might do with his life, being a farmer was forever off the list. But he had gone from his parents house to the army – also known for its perverse need to rise at a ridiculously early hour – and then came home to take a swing shift job at the old Electro-Flo battery factory in neighboring Grady before signing up with the Taylor County Sheriff’s Department, which in those days still included the Smallville patrol district under its jurisdiction. By then, his body had become locked into its own cycle and Parker was, farmer or not, unable to keep his eyes open for the last half hour of most early evening television programs.

Usually, this wasn’t a problem. His wife would shake him gently awake at the end of the show and he would grumble his good-night, kiss her, and shuffle off to bed, closing his eyes for eight, solid hours of sleep before they popped open again at 5 a.m. ahead of the alarm clock. Being a cop in Smallville, even the chief of police – the sheriff had spun the Smallville department off as a separate entity twenty-some years back, while Parker was still a patrolman – did not require many late nights. In fact, this was the first one he could recall having to pull since that spate of vandalism six years ago last Christmas. The truth was, hardly anything of importance ever happened in Smallville. Police work consisted largely of traffic control, mediating minor squabbles between neighbors, and searching for lost livestock. Any real crimes – that is, actual infractions of the penal code – were few and far between, mostly domestic disputes, problems with a few of the boys a bit too fond of drink, petty thefts and, sometimes, pranks gone out of control by the local kids, too bored by life in Smallville not to get into trouble.

By those standards, Parker thought, yawning again and reflexively peeking at the glowing dial of his watch before remembering he hadn’t wanted to know, he currently had a veritable crime wave on his hands. And it was too late now to pretend any longer. It was 11:07 a.m. Oh, lord, was that all? He should drink some more of the coffee Lizzie had made for him, good and strong brewed in the old percolator and poured boiling hot into a tall thermos. But while it might wake him up, it would just go right to his kidneys and then what was he supposed to do? He was in the middle of a stake-out. He couldn’t leave the car to seek out a bathroom. You were better off sticking to water on a stake-out. It didn’t run through you quite so quick. On the other hand, it didn’t keep you awake either.

Parker grinned. He wondered if cops in big cities went through the same kind of nonsense in their heads at times like this, or did they have actual crimes and investigations to occupy their thoughts?

Strike that, he thought. He had actual crimes of his own this time. Practically a crime wave, by Smallville standards. Over the past two weeks, four local businesses had been robbed, beginning with Hanson’s Hardware Store, followed the next night with a burglary at Doc Swenson’s pharmacy, then Jonathan Kent’s general story, and, a week later, a return visit to Doc’s and, just last night, Bud’s Service Station was hit. The inventory of stolen items read like a list from a scavenger hunt, including electrical wire, PVC pipe. sheets of aluminum, hand tools of various uses, a variety of medicines and chemicals that could not, as far as Doc could ascertain, be mixed to create anything lethal or hallucinogenic, large quantities of baking soda and laundry powder, and all manner of automotive parts and accessories. The locks were all expertly picked, nothing except the stolen goods disturbed and, oddest of all, any cash left overnight in the registers or, in one case, in plain sight on the counter, was untouched.

Sounded to the Chief like someone was collecting the makings of a junkyard, but it all added up to more than a thousand dollars worth of goods and that was a lot of larceny. More than he felt comfortable sharing his home with. As unaccustomed as he was to having to deal with serious crime, he always managed to deal with it when he had to and, for all his bitching about the late hour and having to pee, he actually loved this stuff. Oh, not too much and not too often, at least not anymore, but why else did he wear a badge? To sit behind a desk, to direct traffic around road construction crews? So he’d do a little investigating, flex his creaky policeman’s muscle, identify the thief and break a major crime wave.

“Earn your pay for a change,” he muttered at the windshield.

The radio crackled in answer and the big, tough cop jumped and shouted “Jeez Louise!” in surprise.

“You awake out there, Chief?” Della Cronkite, night operator, insomniac, and volunteer off-duty hours police dispatcher asked.

Parker grabbed the hand-mike from the clip, “I’m awake, Della,” he said quickly, so she wouldn’t think he had, in fact, been asleep. “What’s up?”

“Got a bunch of calls,” she said. “From the MacDoughals, the Birminghams, the Connelleys, the…”

He keyed the mike to cut her off. “Della,” he called, overriding her before she could waste precious moments on a digression. “What did they call about?”

“Something in the sky, Chief. South of town, out by the McClintock place. They all say it’s all glowing and has been hovering in the sky for five, ten minutes now.”

Parker turned the key and fired up the big police cruiser’s engine, slamming it quickly into gear.

“What took them so long to report it?”

“That’s my fault. Every time I went for the radio, the telephone would ring again and I had to answer it.”

He pressed down on the gas and shot from his parking space hidden behind the bushes surrounding the cannon on Smallville Square.

“Now, doggone it, Della, how many time do I have to tell you? The radio comes first, okay? Folks will wait a few more rings, but it’s important you get information to me first thing.”

“Well, now, they all sounded so scared, I couldn’t…”

“It’s okay, Della. I’m going to sign off now. I’ll call in as soon as I reach the scene. Over and out.”

“You be careful out there, Chief.”

The radio went dead and Parker dropped the handset on the seat next to him.

Lights in the sky.

Not exactly the crime in progress he had been hoping for, but at least it was something to break the monotony. He received, on average, eight or ten such reports every year, although they usually proved to be lightning or a reflection on a window or windshield, or too much whiskey and an overactive imagination. Although there had been that one instance, thirteen, fourteen years back, when dozens of people in several states had seen something.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Weekly World News VII

A piece I wrote in May, 2006:


CHARITY RAFFLE DRAWING ERUPTS IN VIOLENT BRAWL
© Weekly World News

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – A charity raffle at Las Vegas’s glamorous Greidisimo Hotel and Casino turned ugly when the time came to draw the winning ticket for the grand prize.

“The evening had been going so well,” said Ben Potzerbie, director of event planning for the National Dsylexia Foundation of America (A.F.D.N.). “We had several guest speakers, a nice dinner, and saw excerpts from the show Annie Get Your Nug. Then, disaster.”

“All the tickets were in a big box,” said a shaken Potzerbie. “I pulled out a ticket and announced the winning number, 56647. A woman up front yelled that was her number so I called her onto the stage to check her ticket and claim her prize.”

But before the woman could reach the stage, a man yelled that he held the winning ticket. Then a third ‘winner’ jumped up and that’s when the evening took a really nasty turn.

“The three started arguing, and before we knew it everyone was pushing and fighting,” said Potzerbie. “Hotel security was unable to break it up so they called the police.”

Though the fight resulted in nothing more than a few bloody noses, black eyes and scraped knuckles, it put a damper on the Dyslexia Foundation’s grand event.

“The worst thing is, it was all a misunderstanding,” said Mr. Potzerbie. “As it turned out, none of them had the winning ticket! Their numbers were 67456, 76645 and 45667. The actual winner, the editor of Dam magazine -- which is, in fact, about water barriers -- just sat there. He thought he was holding ticket number 66547.”

The group will try again next year.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Hey Kids--Comics! Part 3

Since I ran Part 1 and Part 2 of this unpublished Steel Sterling story the previous two Mondays, I decided it's only fair to wrap it up this week. Just click on a page to view it at a readable size. Enjoy!

STEEL STERLING-Part 3
© the respective copyright holders












Saturday, August 23, 2008

500 Words A Day: An Update

On August 16, I decided to return to The Same Old Story, a novel I had started a while ago on which I had written about 21,000 words. The book is a mystery, set in the early 1950s and features a pulp and comic book writer who is the son of a late and legendary N.Y.P.D. homicide cop who solves crimes on the side. The plan is to continue working on The Same Old Story simultaneously with my paying assignments, shooting for a manageable 500 words a day on the novel in addition to whatever else I happen to be working on for a check. In the seven days since I started this program, I've written a 12-page comic book script for The Simpsons comics, researched and plotted a 4,400 word Phantom story, wrote two-thirds of another project (this one's also on spec but it's a specialty book that I think has legs), and pitched ideas for my second Superman young reader chapter book to the publisher...all while adding 6,125 words to The Same Old Story, averaging 875 words a day.

At this rate, I'll have a finished novel no later than Thanksgiving.

There's something to be said for this slow-and-steady thing. Here's some of what I've written in the last couple of days:


THE SAME OLD STORY
THE SAME OLD STORY © Paul Kupperberg

Chapter 9/ FIRST DATES
...

“Besides, why hurt Moe?” she asked. She looked away, staring at some memory I couldn’t see. “He was harmless.”

“How well did you know him?”

“Well enough, I suppose,” she said and smiled fondly. “We worked in that same damned little cubbyhole of an office together for six years. It’s hard to have secrets under those circumstances.”

“Do you think Moe did?”

Shelly blinked at me over the rim of her cup. “Do I think Moe did what?”

“Have any secrets?”

“Oh, good lord, no,” she laughed. “Morris Schindler was as easy to read as an open book and twice as pale as its pages.”

“So no secret gambling?”

“No. Moe, blanched at the thought of flipping a dime to see which one of us paid for coffee.”

“Booze? Dope?”

“Straight as an arrow.”

“How about Bob?”

Shelly blinked at my sudden change in direction. “Konigsberg?”

I nodded and gave her time to answer while I sipped the bitter little cup of espresso.

“Bob was a lot of things, but he didn’t drink. Not even socially. He couldn’t tolerate alcohol, for medical reasons.”

“And yet he had a small amount of it in his system when he died.”

Shelly Davis shook her head` and said, “That’s not possible. He was on medication. He never touched the stuff. Besides, I was with him, at some chop suey joint, about an hour before he,” and she paused, swallowing hard and revealing the briefest moment of sorrow, “about an hour before he died. I’ll confess to having had a few shots myself.” She laughed self-consciously and hid her face in her cappuccino until she could regain her composure. “It was very stressful, Max. Bob couldn’t accept that I had ended it and he kept looking for ways for me to forgive him and get back together.”

“That wasn’t an option?”

“No, not at all. I don’t know what ever possessed me to take up with him in the first place.” She lighted a new cigarette and blew the smoke at the ceiling. “I guess it was because he was witty.”

“Witty?” I smiled.

“Hmm, yes,” she said around her cigarette. “Debonair. Worldly. He said things I didn’t understand. Deep.”

Now I laughed. “I’m sorry. I know he’s dead, but…”

She held up her hand like a traffic cop. “Please, I know. It hit me after a while, once the intoxicating effects of the Bay Rum aftershave and aged Scotch wore off. He wasn’t deep. He was just sad.”

“He was crazy, Shelly.”

“Because he was so sad. He couldn’t always live with his own thoughts. And me,” she said, drawing on her smoke and watching the tip burn red. “I couldn’t live with him.”

“Any chance he took a drink later, after you last saw him?”

“It’s possible, I just don’t think it’s likely. He’s not a drinker. He’s never liked alcohol or been able to drink, so he didn’t immediately think to reach for the bottle when he was unhappy or scared. It wasn’t how he was conditioned, you know?”

“How was he conditioned?”

“To go off on rants. Sometimes funny, sometimes crazy. To find fault with everyone else and set them straight on their shortcomings. To find a conspiracy everywhere he looked, including an international anti-Semitic organization’s connection to a busy restaurant that was unable to seat us for half an hour.”

“Paranoid?”

“Sometimes. Mostly, though, he was fine. Just full of himself and his superiority, which would have driven me off eventually, anyway.” She looked me in the eyes. “I can tolerate assaults to my self-esteem for a while. Bob used up his allotment of abuse faster than most, that’s all.”

Shelly flicked some ash into the ashtray and leaned back, half closing her eyes and looked, all of a sudden, soft and vulnerable, like a dream. “I’m so tired,” she said. “I haven’t been sleeping very well, I guess. I know it’s ridiculous, but I almost feel like a target, pinned to a fence. There are a bunch of us, lined up in neat little rows, right alongside each other, and bang, the target to my left gets hit, and bang, the target right below me takes a bull’s eye, and bang, the one to my right….” Her eyes popped open wide and she sat back up. “Am I crazy to think that I may be next?”

“You’d be crazy not to act as though you might be,” I said.

“What do people think of me, Max?” she asked, out of the blue.

“What people?”

“The…” she said and made a vague, all-encompassing gesture. “You know, people. The gang.”

“I wasn’t aware you had a gang,” I said with a dubious shake of my head.

“I don’t. You do. So? What do they say about me? Older woman who keeps to herself? Office tramp?”

“Probably something in between those two. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about you.”

“But you do spend some time. Everyone at Blue Chip knew I was seeing Bob, didn’t they?”

“Apparently I was the only one who didn’t.”

She favored me with the flash of a smile. “Aren’t you sweet. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that Bob told everyone about us himself. That bastard liked to brag about his conquests, real and imagined.”

I looked at her with an inquisitor’s raised eyebrow. “That sounds cryptic,” I said.

“His medication,” she said with a shrug. “It often interfered with certain otherwise...normal functions. He wasn’t quite all the man he liked to brag he was. Mostly he was after someone to decorate his arm and listen adoringly to him ramble on.”

I started to signal the waitress for another round but Shelly shook her head. Instead, I stole one of Shelly’s Old Golds. Everything she told me seemed to make sense, but nothing suggested any reason for both these men to be dead. Maybe just having Shelly Davis in common was dangerous, but I’d take that chance.

There was a reason I hadn’t told Uncle Mick I was off to meet one of the principles in his double-murder investigation for coffee, but I’ll be damned if I had it figured out yet. A tiny little voice was shouting somewhere deep in my head not to trust her, that she wasn’t the woman she was making herself out to be. I didn’t want to listen, though. Maybe I’d never pursued Shelly, kept our relationship friendly, but this wasn’t a woman you wanted as a friend, not once you saw past the mask she wore at the office. Of course, I always knew she was beautiful and I understood why she made the men over fifty sigh and the ones under trip all over themselves opening doors for her. I suppose since I’d never given her a signal, she’s never turned on the switch with me.

But now she had. And I still had not given her a signal. I could assume my familiarity with Detective Sergeant Michael O’Connor had been a motivating factor. Or maybe she was just tired of going home with jackasses and jerks like Bob Konigsberg and was looking to take a chance on a nice guy like me for a change. Whatever her reasons, I wanted to believe her and, for tonight, at least, I would.

“I live just a few blocks from here,” she said, starting to gather up her cigarettes and lighter. “If you still want that second cup of coffee, I have an espresso pot.”

“I don’t need any more coffee.”

“I still live just a few blocks away,” she said and looked at me in a way that made the back of my neck feel warm.

Even though she lived close by, we took a taxi anyway. We didn’t talk about murder any more that night.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Warrior Matron, Part 2

On August 8, I ran the first segment of an unpublished short story from 2002, “Passed Lives.” Here’s some more:

“Passed Lives”
© Paul Kupperberg

The blackness slid across the face of the sun and, as Malasa had promised, emerged whole and unchanged at the end. Khar had fallen to his knees, spending the next hour of the day that became night in prayer to Atlannis and any other deity he thought might be open to hearing his pleas of salvation for himself and his family.

Malasa watched him through the window after, at last, stifling her laughter and finding the words to comfort and calm the children. The moment had passed, her awakening leaving her both unsettled and strangely calmed, as though the forty-seven years of this life had been something she had only imagined, a brief interruption in reality. But that was not true. Khar, this house, the fourteen children she had birthed, the three she had buried before their first years had passed, her life up to this instant...hardly an hallucination.

And yet...

She set the children to preparing fresh bread for their supper. Ordinarily, they baked only once a week, on the eve of the resting day, but she wanted to distract them from the waning sun. Khar seemed rooted to the ground, unwilling to cease his prayers until he either believed the danger had passed or he found himself face-to-face with the gods.

...Malasa could no more deny the life she lead than she could the one, from so long ago, that the sight of the eclipsing sun had awakened. She remembered them both, vividly, the details of whichever one her mind happened to light upon the more strongly remembered, until memory leapt from the one back to the other. She was Kahna, the tenth generation warrior priestess of the Emerald Temple of the City of the Archer. She was Malasa, wife of Khar of the City of the Stars. She had lived as the former many centuries past. She lived now as the latter. And now, suddenly, after the passage of too many years, that previous existence had come back to her, whole and fully remembered as though she lived it still.

“Why now?” Malasa whispered as the last vestige of darkness slipped away from the sun and the day became whole again.

In a dark corner of her mind, in the part that was now Kahna, she believed she knew and that knowledge made her shudder.

* * *

In the night, with the house’s great room glowing in near light from the banked embers in the hearth, Khar stirred in bed and whispered her name.

“Yes, Khar?” she said, quiet so that the girls were not awakened.

“How did you know?” he asked in a tone that said he was not accustomed to his wife knowing what he did not.

“How did I know what?” she answered, pretending to have been awoken from a sound sleep. Malasa could scarce breathe, having waited all day for him to ask this question, knowing there was no sane answer she could give him.

About the sun,” he said.

Malasa moved her shoulders. “I didn’t,” she said. “I lied, so the children wouldn’t be frightened.”

His voice came softly out of the darkness. “No,” he said. “No, you didn’t. I know you, Malasa. After a lifetime together, I can read your every tone. You spoke the truth.”

“I’m tired, Khar,” she said.

“I thought we were doomed,” Khar said. He shifted in bed, pressing his body against hers. She could smell the smoke and tang of metal that clung to him no matter well how he scrubbed himself clean every night. He pushed aside her long hair, auburn streaked with gray, and kissed the back of her neck. “I was scared,” he said in strangled voice. “To lose you.” Another kiss. “Our children.” His hand crept up her hip.

“No, Khar,” she said without moving. “Please, not tonight.”

Khar was silent, then said, “You’ve never denied me before, Malasa.”

Malasa drew the heavy wool cover to her chin, her eyes wide open and staring at something that was not in the room.

“Malasa?”

“I can’t tonight, just not tonight, Khar,” she whispered.

Khar exhaled heavily and withdrew to his side of the bed. “Sleep well, Malasa,” he said.

“Sleep well,” she said. But Malasa was sure there would be no sleep for her. She had much to think upon now that it was dark and quiet and she could be alone with her thoughts. She could think about what it was to be Kahna, to be Malasa, two women sharing a single mind. To wonder why, in the eclipsed light of the noonday sun she was suddenly made to know that hers was Kahna’s soul reborn. And how, in the name of Crghas and the Darkness, she would ever explain it to Khar and the children.

And most troubling of all, the matter that had her wracked with guilt, shivering with longing. How was she to find Thalis? And what he would see when Kahna stood before him, old and worn to a gray tatter by Malasa’s life?

What would he see, the lover she had last seen so many centuries ago?

* * *

The day after the eclipse, the priests proclaimed a time of prayer and meditation. Malasa, like the rest of the citizens of the City ignored them and went about their business. Perhaps a priest or a nobleman might spare a day to commune with unhearing gods, but she could not. Khar did not speak of the previous day, but Malasa caught him casting furrow-browed looks in her direction all morning. Shartra and Vannga spent their time in the corner or across the yard from their mother, watching her and whispering to one another.

After the midday meal, Malasa could stand it no more.

She stood in the door of Khar’s smithing shack. “I am going to the City,” she told him.

He frowned. “It’s late to start off now, isn’t it?”

She shrugged. “There is bread and meat for your evening meal. I’ll stay the night at an inn and return in the morning.”

Khar’s frown deepened, a black smudge across his sweat and soot stained forehead. “Malasa,” he started to say.

She looked at him, Malasa loving her husband of thirty years, Kahna not knowing him at all. “I will be home tomorrow, Khar,” she said. She turned and began walking away. She stopped and without turning back to look at him added, “I promise.”

Then she was gone. A little while later, Khar heard the sound of hoofs clattering across the yard, then fading as his wife rode away, out of all hearing and sight.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Brief Introduction

Every now and then, I'm called upon to use my overabundance of comic book knowledge to write an introduction or foreword to some collection of stories, frequently stories that I am somehow connected to because of my long experience in the field. In this case, it was an archival collection of the Doom Patrol, a classic comic book series from the 1960s. In the 1970s and 1980s, I wrote revivals of the Doom Patrol, mostly, at the time, to lukewarm fan review, although time has soften many of those opinions and there seems to be a certain fondness for the work now.

Here's a slightly abridged version (I took out references to the stories printed in the volume) of the foreword to THE DOOM PATROL ARCHIVE, Volume 4. DC doesn't illustrate these forewords so the photograph did not appear in the book.


THE DOOM PATROL ARCHIVES • Volume 4 FOREWORD
© DC Comics
Photograph by Marc Svensson

The first time I met Arnold Drake in anything more than passing was in March of 2004. Someone had arranged to bring a bunch of Golden and Silver Age writers and artists up to the DC Comics offices for a tour and a small gathering for the comics creators of the day to express their appreciation for the creators of yesteryear. Among that number were some old friends, including artist Murphy Anderson (and the charming Mrs. Anderson) and several new acquaintances, including Larry Lieber and Arnold Drake.

Murphy, of course, was a long-time staple at DC, one of the company’s top artists and inkers. Larry never wrote a word for DC, but as a prolific Atomic and Silver Age Marvel writer and artist, I had grown up on his work and was thrilled to meet him. Arnold, on the other hand, had written plenty of words for DC: mysteries, science fiction, detective stories, suspense, super-heroes, humor (including THE ADVENTURES OF JERRY LEWIS — I’m just saying); you name it, he’d written it.

Though I was junior to Arnold Drake and the rest of the gentlemen gathered at DC that day in terms of years in the biz (as well as status and reputation), I had logged a few decades hanging around those offices as well, beginning as a fan around 1970 (when a fan could still hang around the offices), so it was unsurprising that our paths would cross, even if only, as I’ve said, in passing.

Starting in 1977, Arnold and I actually had a legitimate connection, but I doubt he knew who I was or that the connection even existed.

Arnold Drake and I had both written THE DOOM PATROL.

Not that the credit put me in the same stadium, let alone on the same playing field, as Arnold. As the forewords to previous volumes of this Archive series have related, he created this remarkable cast of characters (along with co-writer Bob Haney on the first couple of stories). He was the guiding force of this, DC’s most forward-thinking series of the 1960s. Probably more than any other writer at National Periodical Publications in 1963, Arnold saw the writing on the wall that was being scrawled by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko at Marvel, and he replied with THE DOOM PATROL.

How well did he understand what Lee and company were doing?

Arnold’s DOOM PATROL was the perfect DC counterpoint to the Marvel Revolution, as proven by the debut of the similarly-themed (but thoroughly different, wheelchair-bound leaders aside) Lee and Kirby-created X-Men a couple of months later. In 1967, Arnold also gave the world Deadman, and by then the rest of the company had gotten the hint and creators such as Ditko, Mike Friedrich, Steve Skeates, Dennis O’Neal, Neal Adams and others had joined Arnold in pulling the company into the 1960s.

THE DOOM PATROL never seemed to lose its edge. Sure, parts of the stories may seem forced and corny today, but to those of us reading them in the 1960s, when plot gimmicks and “as fate would have it”-levels of coincidence were still the norm in a lot of titles, the group was a revelation. The Chief, Cliff, Larry and Rita (later joined by Gar Logan and Steve Dayton) provided one of the few continuity-driven books in the line. A diehard DC fan could tell, even then, that THE DOOM PATROL, under the editorial stewardship of Murray Boltinoff, had to have been flying under the radar. It was too different. Too good. I wasn’t surprised to learn, years later, that despite the second-class status of many of his titles, quiet, unassuming Murray consistently posted some of the highest sales percentages in the company.

I came to THE DOOM PATROL around 1967 via a back issue of CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN that I had picked up for a nickel at one of the few used book stores in my area of Brooklyn that carried old comics. It was CHALLENGERS # 48, from 1966 (reprinted in THE DOOM PATROL ARCHIVES VOL. 3), the first of the two-part crossover with the Doom Patrol (another big deal for the time — crossovers were few and far between!). The Challengers were my second-favorite team at the time (after the Justice League of America, of course; that went without saying), and I was picking up whatever back issues I could find. In that 25 cents’ worth of old comics was my introduction to Arnold’s creation.

* * *

By then (the time of the stories reprinted in this volume), the Doom Patrol readership was becoming a bit of a family as well. Editor Boltinoff didn’t just run letters from the fans on his letter pages; he had a “Swap Shop” section in there as well, listing the names and addresses of readers looking to buy, sell or swap back issues of THE DOOM PATROL. Only Julie Schwartz’s letter columns at DC (and Stan Lee’s at Marvel) had that same feeling of intimacy, not only between editor and reader but among the readership in general.

But all good things must come to an end, and THE DOOM PATROL met its fate in the summer of 1968 with a denouement as unexpected as it was unprecedented.

And there it ended. Until 1977, when Paul Levitz, Boy Editor, called me with the news that (a) DC was reviving the original title of SHOWCASE, last seen in 1970; (b) he was editing the first three-issue arc (although we didn’t call them that until the 1990s, when someone swiped the term from the TV show Wiseguys (they used to just be called “stories”); and (c) would I like to write it, because (d) it was going to be the New Doom Patrol.

Paul and I have known each other since seventh grade in Meyer Levin Junior High School. Like me, Paul is one of the biggest fanboy geeks around, and he knew full well that this assignment contained all the elements I liked, wrapped up in one: it had the Doom Patrol, it had SHOWCASE, and it was work!

However.

Let me just say now, with no apologies but by way of explanation, that I was young, only a couple of years into writing comics, and caught up in the trend of changing, fixing and otherwise screwing around with what came before. Suffice to say that both the New Doom Patrol and I would have been better served if I hadn’t revised quite so much. I took Arnold Drake’s Doom Patrol and broke it. It was done with the best of intentions, but it still wound up broken. And I didn’t make things much better when I had a second chance at the characters in 1987.

Thanks to continuity, there’s no such thing as water under the bridge in comics. It all becomes part of the gestalt, and the characters (not to mention the readers and the writer) are stuck with it, regardless of subsequent retcons or reboots.

So, in March of 2004, I finally got the chance to sit down, face to face, with Arnold Drake and spend some time just talking. I told him how much his Doom Patrol meant to me. I talked about his other work, particularly on THE ADVENTURES OF JERRY LEWIS (again, I’m just saying), and then, just before we had our picture taken together, I said, “I really regret that I messed with the Doom Patrol. It was perfect the way you set it up. Changing it was a big mistake.”

Arnold was gracious, shrugging as if to say, ‘What’re you going to do?’

“What I did with the Doom Patrol’s really one of my biggest creative regrets,” I said with a sigh.

He sighed too, nodding his head and patting me fondly on the shoulder. “I know, my boy,” he said in his gravelly voice. “I know.”


Which explains why I wasn’t smiling when the picture was snapped.

Sorry, Arnold.

— Paul Kupperberg
2007

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Weekly World News VI

Here’s a Weekly World News piece I wrote in September 2005. I’m a regular Nostradamus, ain’t I?

BYE-BYE, BUCKS, HELLO TARS
New Currency Issued on U.S.'s New Oil-Based Economy
© Weekly World News
DISNEY DOLLARS
© Disney

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- According to a secret report leaked to Weekly World News, the U.S. Mint has been busy printing new bills like money was going out of style.

That’s because it is! At least, the money we knew.

"The president felt it was time to replace the old dollar with a new unit of currency," admitted Assistant Deputy Treasury Secretary Mindy Doe. "Look at our cash -- all those pictures of dead presidents, buildings and sayings most people don’t recognize. Is that the kind of thing to have on currency?

"And gold -- what’s that about? Except for jewelry and teeth, what do we actually do with it? Is that a substance on which to base an economy?"

According to the White House, the answer is no.

"Beginning in 2007, the familiar greenback, or dollar bill, is to be phased out and replaced by the newly created ‘tarback,’" said Doe. "Its value will be backed by the price of oil as we switch from a gold-based to petroleum-based economy."

"I personally think it’s a great idea," confided Representative Tom LeDay (R-Alaska). "One tarback will be worth the price of one barrel of oil. That should help take the sting out of the so-called ‘high cost of filling your gas tank.’

"First, of course, Americans will have to turn in their current currency," LeDay added. "It will cost at least eighty dollars to purchase one Tarbuck."

The new currency is the same size as the current bills, colored gray rather than green. The pictures of former American presidents will be replaced by images of gas pumps through history. The picture of the pyramid on the $1 bill is being changed to a Texas oil rig.

The government plans to eliminate coins altogether, since they will be practically worthless.

"That will also solve the problem of all those homeless people annoying us by rattling coffee cups filled with change," Doe added.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

500 Words A Day or Bust!

My hard drive is full of bits and pieces of incomplete stories, novels, characters, bits and ideas. Some of them will never go anywhere, some will wind up cannibalized and used elsewhere, and others are far enough along that I really have no excuse not to do something with them...like, maybe, finish them. One of the latter is The Same Old Story, a mystery set in the early 1950s world of the comic book industry from which I ran an excerpt on August 2 (containing my beloved Pincus the ribbon salesman joke). I had about 21,000 words written on the book, eleven or twelve chapters, and a pretty solid idea where the story was going, but I hadn’t touched the thing in more than a year.

It occurred to me that if I’d written even 500 words a day on it during that year, the book would have been finished months ago...as would a second book, with a third one in progress. Five hundred words a day, even on top of regular schedule of paying work, is no great strain. So on August 16, I sat down to inaugurate a 500-words a day regiment aimed at finishing this novel in the course of the next three to four months; I ended up totaling 1,200 words that first day and between 600-800 words each day since. These are those first 1,200:

THE SAME OLD STORY
THE SAME OLD STORY © Paul Kupperberg
BIG TOWN
© the respective copyright holders

Chapter 8/BIG TOWN
It was after lunch by the time I got back to Brooklyn, so I took the cold brisket on rye mom had left for me and a mug of reheated coffee into my room and ate while I got to work. I’d spent so much time during the week looking for work, I’d hardly gotten anything done on the assignments I already had. First up were the Big Town story pitches for Schwartz at National. Since I’d practically grown up listening to the radio program, I was pretty much up to speed on the relationship of newspaper editor Steve Wilson and his gal pal Ona Munson, but I read through the issues of the comic book I’d been given anyway. I was guessing there was a formula of some sort that the writers followed, just like the program it was based on could be counted on to tell its stories in a certain way.

It took me all of two stories to get the formula, which wasn’t really much different from every other crime comic on the racks. Introduce your characters, throw a criminal plot in their path, take them through a couple of twists and turns that winds up with them facing the wrong end of a gun or hanging from the face of a building, than provide an incredible last-second save based on their knowing something the bad guy did not or some slip-up on the villain’s part. I jotted some notes as I read; crimes with interesting twists, compelling bad guys, a few death traps, some obscure forensics trivia. From what I had heard and could read for myself, Schwartz was a gimmick-guy. He loved a great bit, a twist, preferably based on some scientific or historic fact, always fairly introduced somewhere in the story. “That so-called jungle orchard in your hothouse produces the chemical surgeons use to paralyze and immobilize their patients on the operating table!” Writers I knew who worked with him said he was a challenge, always twisting the story out from under you, taking the rough lump of your idea and polishing it until it glistened with all the facets of what he thought this type of story needed. It also made me understand Al Roth’s comments about how they wanted him to draw like “everyone else.” Everyone wrote like everyone else, at least on their crime books. Everyone was squeaky clean, even the cartoon gangsters pulling outlandish crimes too incredible to be taken seriously by even those brain dead hotheads talking censorship in Washington.

But, as my grandfather, Chiam the peddler, liked to say, “You sell what people are buying.” It used to be I was selling pulp stories. Right now it was crime comics, but look where that was going. The 25¢ paperback was looking good as the next big thing; all I needed was a solid novel to peddle to one of the publishing houses, not that I had the time to work on something like that. Whenever I sat down at my desk, and I spent an awful lot of time parked there, it was to work on a paying job. I was too busy scrambling to pay the rent and have something resembling a life to concentrate on anything like a novel on spec. Sooner or later, though, I’ll have to do it. Better I should be writing it now, two, three, even five hundred words a day, than start sweating it out with no time to do anything good...

Except that was just my mind trying to divert my attention from what I should be doing, procrastinating at the thought of having to tackle something new like the Big Town stories. The hypothetical novel would have to wait, at least until I was caught up with my story outlines and scripts.

I rolled a sandwich of carbon paper between two sheets of white bond into my trusty old Underwood Noiseless Portable 77 and started typing. I figured I would come up with six or eight springboards, jumping off points for stories that Mr. Schwartz and I could mold and shape together in reasoned dialog. Why spend all the time to construct tight little eight-page mysteries that will unravel at his first change anyway? I was willing to go in, offer him the raw material with which to build a story he was comfortable with then work with him to finish as something we both can live with.

The act of typing was enough to raise my confidence. I always figured I could write anything...I just needed to get to it and put the actual words down on paper. Typing meant I’d gotten to it, on the same typewriter I’d been getting to it on since 1937. I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands or even millions of words I’d logged on that old Underwood. The E, S, and RETURN keys were practically worn out and the bell that rang at the end of each line was starting to sound a bit tinny, but we worked well together. I wasn’t a fast typist, poking away at a reasonable speed, about as fast as I know what the next word is going to be, so the keys never jammed on me and were always just the right amount of springy under my fingers.

I’d paid Mr. Baum at the pawn shop on St. John’s Place $13.50 for the Underwood in 1937. Or maybe it was more accurate to say I rented the sleek black machine from him for 5¢ a week for over three years until I’d paid him his asking price. Mr. Baum had seen me wandering past the store several times a day for almost two weeks, pausing to stare forlornly at that machine before moving on. One day, he happened to be outside sweeping the sidewalk when I came by and he and his broom joined me at the window.

“You like that typewriter machine?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “But I ain’t got thirteen and a half bucks.”

“You do know ‘ain’t’ isn’t a real word.”

“I know, but that’s how everybody else talks so I do too.”

“So, this typewriter. What’s so special about it?”

“I don’t know. I just really like it.”

“What I’m asking is, what do you want it for?”

“Oh. To write. I’m a writer.”

“You are?”

I nodded. “Well, I will be when I get a typewriter. Right now, I write everything on nickel tablets, but that’s just until I can get a real typewriter. All the real writers use them.”

“I’ll tell you what. Since I too would like to see you become a real writer, and because I know your father, I can let you take this magnificent machine home on a special time payment program of one nickel a week, when you got it. When you don’t, you come sweep up the sidewalk or the floor inside, do some errands, you’ll work it off. And if after a few weeks you decide you don’t want to keep it, I’ll give you a…”

“That’s okay, Mr. Baum, that won’t happen. This is a final sale.” I stuck out my hand and shook on the deal with Mr. Baum before he could change his mind. With extra hours on weekends, I owned the Underwood outright in three years and I let Mr. Baum read everything I wrote with it. He called that collecting interest payments on the loan.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hey Kids--Comics! Part 2

Last Monday, I posted the first of three unpublished 5-page back-up comic book stories starring superhero Steel Sterling, written by myself and drawn by Gene Ha for the relaunch of DC's 1990s Impact Comics line. Today, the second part. Just click on a page to view it at a readable size:

STEEL STERLING-Part 2
© the respective copyright holders





Saturday, August 16, 2008

Another Exciting Episode of...

The second installment of Capes, Cowls & Costumes, my superhero prose review column, is up on Bookgasm.com. This time around, it's a look at the early Marvel novels. Stop by, have a read, leave a comment. Thanks!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Weekly World News V

An article written in May 2005:

RABBITS SUE TO KEEP THEIR FEET ON THE GROUND...AND OFF KEYCHAINS!
© Weekly World News
Garbage Pail Kids
© The Topps Cpmpany, Inc.

They are a familiar sight in animal shelters and pet shops across the nation: rabbit amputees, their limbs sacrificed by the millions every year in the name of good luck.

"Bad luck for their poor little missing hindquarters," sneered Harvey P. Dowd, an attorney representing Help Outlaw Paw Pruning Sadists, an organization devoted to ending the barbaric human practice of cutting off rabbit’s feet and carrying them for good luck. "The foot of the Leporidae -- which is the Latin name for rabbits -- has been used as a good luck charm since before 600 B.C. These trinkets grew from ancient superstitions about fertility and pacifism. But there is nothing peaceful about this grisly practice."

In criminal papers filed in U.S. District Court, H.O.P.P.S. seeks an injunction against the ‘foot fetish peddlers,’ as they call them. Not only does the suit claim ‘cruel and unusual punishment,’ it accuses the defendants of trafficking in stolen goods. H.O.P.P.S. has also filed a separate class action civil suit seeking monetary compensation for the many millions of victims of the powerful rabbits foot industry.

"This is an abuse of the legal system," said Dutch D’Argent, spokesperson for plush animal and trinket-industry giant Fun Fur All. "Owning a rabbit’s foot is part of the rite-of-passage in America. It's like your first jackknife or BB gun -- which, frankly, is one reason a kid needs a good luck charm.

"I mean, we're talking about rabbits," D’Argent went on. "People slaughter billions of animals every year for food. Heck, we take the rabbit’s feet but at least we leave the animals alive!"

Alive and at the center of an expensive health care crisis.

"It might be more merciful if D'Argent and his fellow sadists did just kill them," Dowd said bitterly. "Instead, they leave behind wounded, wretched ruins with nothing to look forward to but more bad hare days."

Dexter Palomino and his wife, Satin, run a rabbit rescue farm in Fresno, California. It’s located in a quiet, rustic setting on Bunny Lake.

"Most of our guests are victims of the good luck charm industry," Dexter said. "Our farm is crawling with bunny amputees. Well, not crawling. Most of them get around on those little carts with wheels. Unfortunately, our financial resources are stretched to the limit. There’s a waiting list of rabbits to get in."

"That’s why we’re also suing for funding," said Mr. Dowd. "The bill should be footed, so to speak, by the people who crippled these poor creatures in the first place."

The rabbits foot industry claims not to be worried by the lawsuit. "These rabbits don’t have a leg to stand on, legally and otherwise," said Mr. D’Argent.

"We’ll see about that," Dowd told us. "We’ll also see something else -- whether a few hundred thousand rabbit’s feet can actually bring a heartless businessman any luck."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

JSA: The Novel

I finished this novel in July 2005 and it was due to be published sometime in 2006 by iBooks. The sudden death of iBooks publisher Byron Preiss caused a whole chain reaction of events that resulted in bankruptcy for iBooks and the cancellation of this—and many other—books. DC is currently in negotiations with the new owner of iBooks and there is some hope that JSA: Ragnarok will be resurrected and published...indeed, that it will even be followed by two more novels to complete what was originally planned as a trilogy.

In this excerpt, taken from the last chunk of the book, Michael Holt, aka Justice Society of American chairman Mister Terrific, is, along with his teammates, in the clutches of the bad guys and things don’t look good for them. Michael’s remembering back to his pre-superhero days, to the last time he let himself get distracted:

JSA: RAGNAROK
JSA and all related characters and elements © DC Comics

The 400 meter was the last event of the first day of the decathlon and Michael Holt felt nothing but good about his chances. The 400 was his event. He had already taken the 100 meter, the long jump, the shot put, and high jump, breaking one personal best and three Olympic records in the doing. He was well ahead in points and the odds-on favorite to take the gold. The whole stadium seemed to be on his side as he took his place at the starting line.

The closest thing he had to competition was the Kenyan, a whippet thin young man with densely corded muscles and deadly serious expression, currently in second place. He had gone over to shake the other man’s hand and wish him luck before the race, but instead of being a gentleman about it, the Kenyan had instead given him only the most perfunctory of handshakes and then turned his back on Michael.

Well.

If that didn’t call for some serious butt kicking, Michael didn’t know what did. He glanced over at his competitor, but the other man had his eyes fixed on the tape, 400 meters, just a shade under 361 feet down the track. The Kenyan was giving away nothing. He had to know he was up against a superior athlete. Any other year, he would have been a cinch for the gold medal. Just his luck to qualify the same year as the one competitor in the world who outclassed him.

Michael took his position, steadying his breathing. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched the Kenyan. The Kenyan ignored him. He only had eyes for the finish line. Too bad Michael’s back was about to block his view.

The starting gun barked and the runners pushed off.

Michael Holt sailed into an easy lead, legs and arms pumping in perfect rhythm, breathing in through his nose, out through his mouth. Every bit of technique he had ever learned and had trained into himself so deeply that it was as natural as the beating of his heart came into play. He wasn’t just running, he was flying, fractions of seconds ticking off in his head with the accuracy of a Swiss timepiece. The world record in the 400 belonged to Michael Johnson at 43.18 seconds. Michael’s best in competition was 43.32. The Kenyan’s was 43.55.

He needed to shave only .14 second to tie, .15 to beat it.

And teach the Kenyan a lesson.

He allowed himself a glance at the Kenyan’s lane to his left. He saw the African was matching him, stride for stride. There was nobody between them. It was down to just them. The damned Kenyan was running the race of his life.

And the spectators knew it. Suddenly, the cheers were no longer for Michael Holt but for the Kenyan.

And then Michael stumbled, not much, just a half-step, nothing anyone but another runner would even notice, but enough to cost him less than a tenth of a second. Less than the blink of an eye.

But enough to lose him the race and cost him the world record.

The Kenyan broke the tape at 43.21.

Michael was right behind him at 43.26.

The stadium went wild. And just before he took his victory lap, the Kenyan turned his head and caught Michael’s glaring eyes, giving him an almost apologetic half-smile and a minute shrug.

Michael Holt went on to win the remaining five events the following day, giving him nine out of the ten and setting a still-unbroken Olympic record for the decathlon. Nine out of ten. The Olympic gold. But what he remembered most about his victory was that .05 of a second loss, all because he got cocky and allowed himself to be distracted by something else, taking his eye off the prize, off the finish line where it belonged.

Losing your focus. That’ll kill you every time.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Come Fly With Me

The first chapter of a young adult adventure book in a military setting, kind of a Tom Clancy for the kids:

R.A.P.I.D. FORCE
© Paul Kupperberg

Chapter One/ Wiesbaden, Germany

Airman Sean Jordan was on a night time training exercise in the densely wooded forest between Wiesbaden and Frankfurt when his new orders came through. Loaded down with almost fifty pounds of protective gear and equipment, the 18-year old E2 was about to lunge from the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter as part of the advance squad sent in to survey and establish a forward area refueling point (FARP) for his group. The chopper had been on the ground twenty-five seconds already, its rotors slicing the cool night air, ready to take to the sky again at a moment’s notice, while the first five men had unloaded, scrambling themselves and their equipment to cover. Sean was the last man out, his M-16 locked and loaded while his eyes swept the LZ on the lookout for bad guys.

The goal was to have the chopper back in the air inside of 45 seconds. Sean intended to be out the door and waving it away in less than that. Every second the massive black machine was motionless on the ground was another opportunity to attract enemy fire. And even though the worst that could happen in a training exercise like this one was to be “killed” by the laser-sight on an opponent’s weapon triggering a sensor on the helicopter or his bulletproof Kevlar combat vest, the blond airman did not like to lose.

Losing meant failure and the fact that Sean Jordan was merely a passenger on the Hawk instead of her pilot meant he had failed enough already.

“We’re clear,” crackled the voice of one of his team mates’s in his helmet’s radio headset.

“Roger that,” Sean replied and took a step toward the hatch before a hand clamped down on his shoulder, stopping him in his tracks.

“Not so fast, airman,” Senior Master Sergeant Rasmussen said. Though the sergeant was right behind him in the chopper, it would have been impossible to hear the older man over the thunderous noise of its beating rotors without the radio headsets they all wore to communicate in the field.

The internal countdown in Sean’s head told him they had been on the ground for going on forty seconds. “What, master sergeant?” he snapped, impatient to be on the ground to his own time-table.

“New orders, airman,” the craggy-faced black man said. “You got a plane to catch back at the base.”

The young Air Force enlisted man was confused. “But we’re in the middle of an exercise, master sergeant.”

“You’re not, not anymore,” Rasmussen smiled. “Dispatch just radioed. Your packet’s come through. You got your transfer, kid.” Then, to the chopper pilot, he said, “Take her up.”

Airman Sean Jordan watched the dark ground fall quickly away from him through the hatch in stunned disbelief.

Over his helmet radio, Sean one of the men he was leaving behind at the LZ asked, “Where you off to, dude?”

As the big machine surged forward at over 150 miles per hour, Airman Sean Jordan stepped back from the crash of air sweeping by the Hawk’s hatch and smiled.

“The big show, bud,” he laughed. “See you guys around!”

* * *

Wiesbaden Air Force Base, Wiesbaden, Germany:

Sean had just twenty minutes to race back to his billet, shower, jump into a clean basic daily uniform (BDU), pack his gear, and hitch a ride back to the flight line.

“We got you deadheading on a Herc leaving at 02300 for Wheeler-Sack, flying light,” the 2nd lieutenant who had met Sean at the chopper pad with the airman’s orders had told him. “You’ll fly commercial the rest of the way to Nellis, reporting no later than 0900 day after, local.” Sean had saluted as he mentally translated the lieutenant’s air force jargon into English: he would be riding an empty C-130 Hercules cargo plane that was returning empty to the States. It was leaving at 11:30 that night for Wheeler-Sack Air Force Base, Fort Drum, in Watertown, New York. From there, Sean would fly a commercial airliner to Los Vegas, Nevada, where he was to report to his new duty at Nellis Air Force Base by 9:00 A.M., local time, the day after tomorrow.

Sean couldn’t believe his luck. The young airman had joined the Air Force with every intention of becoming a pilot. He had assumed that he had a lock on flight training—he was already a flyer, having taken lessons starting when he was 14-years old, soloing in single-engine craft since he was 16. His father and brother were both active duty U.S.A.F. pilots, his grandfather a retired three-star general and Korean War ace. If anyone had ever been born to fly, it was Sean Jordan.

Except, it turned out, he wasn’t, at least not for the Air Force.

While he had the family history, the reflexes, and the skill, what he didn’t have were the eyes for the job. A routine eye exam during his physical work-up for flight training revealed that Sean suffered from a mild form of something called “night blindness.” The docs explained that his vision, though 20/20 in daylight and under well-lighted conditions at night, was inadequate in blackout conditions, like those he would experience on night combat missions. His eyes just didn’t adjust quickly enough or well enough to the dark for it to be safe for him to fly.

What good was it to be in the Air Force if you couldn’t fly? With his grandfather, father, and brother all decorated combat pilots, he felt like the Air Force was the family business, a proud and elite firm that he wanted, desperately, to join. But while those who came before him were the executives, the guys on the front lines who made the business tick, he wasn’t qualified for anything more than a job as the janitor, part of the ground crew that cleaned up after the men who did the real work. Heartbroken by this turn of events, Sean had considered running out his enlistment and giving up on a military career. But his grandfather had sat him down and set him straight: flying may have seemed to Sean like the one and only glamor job in the Air Force, but there were more ways to serve heroically and with distinction than from the pilot’s seat of a fighter.

“Matter of fact,” his grandfather had chuckled, “compared to the fellows on the ground, the pilot’s got it pretty easy, flying over where most of the shooting’s taking place.”

Sean knew that wasn’t so. Pilots were constantly at risk from anti-aircraft fire, from surface-to-air-missiles, and attack by other aircraft. But he got the message, especially when grandpop started telling him stories about the Air Force special forces units, the men the pilots ferried in to hot zones to engage in ground combat or handle missions that couldn’t be dealt with from the air.

That was all Sean needed to hear. Maybe he couldn’t be a pilot, but that didn’t mean the only jobs left for him were ground crew or maintenance. He asked his grandfather what the best and toughest Air Force combat special forces unit was and the old man answered without hesitation, “R.A.P.I.D. Force, airman. Reconnaissance Air Patrol and Immediate Deployment! There’s not a dirty job you can think of that those boys would back away from.”

Sean had his papers in for R.A.P.I.D. before the end of the next day and now, six months later, he had orders in hand and was on his way to join up with that very unit.

Sean showed his orders to the loadmaster at the tail ramp of the C-130 and hustled up into the belly of the massive aircraft. It was, he noted, one of the new C-130J-30s, almost 35 meters long by 3 meters high of cargo space with a nearly 40 meter wingspan supporting four Rolls-Royce AE2100DS turboprop engines that delivered 4,700 horsepower. This baby had it all, including an advanced two-pilot flight station with fully integrated digital avionics, color multifunctional liquid crystal displays and head-up displays, state-of-the-art navigation systems with global positioning system, fully integrated defensive systems, digital moving map display, and an enhanced cargo-handling system. Fully loaded she could carry about 75,000 kilograms, or 164,000 pounds of cargo at a speed of around 360 kilometers an hour. If her cargo were human beings, she was big enough to handle 128 combat troops or 92 paratroopers.

There wouldn’t be anything like that many aboard tonight, he noticed. A single pallet of seats had been bolted to the deck, offering seating for six, maximum. There was only one other man aboard, already buckled into his seat. He could only see the back of the man’s head, brown-haired flecked with silver, probably an officer, Sean guessed as he stowed his gear in the webbing along the side of the bulkhead.

The man must have heard Sean behind him and turned his head. It was an officer, and Sean didn’t need to see the man’s brass to know he was in the presence of one-star, a brigadier general. Sean snapped to attention and threw a salute.

“General,” he said smartly.

“Airman Jordan,” the general said with a smile as he returned the salute. “How are you, son?”

Sean stayed at attention and said, “I’m fine, dad. How are you?”

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Please Allow Me To Introduce This Book

Random House had signed a contract for a book in 2006. They were very excited about publishing the book. Random publishes the Onion books and do very well with them. There was no reason why Weekly World News, an older and even better known brand vis-à-vis American pop culture, couldn’t sell a few books. And our first book was all new material, articles and photographs, unlike Onion’s reprints. But then, last August Weekly World News bit the dust and, shortly thereafter, all the licensing agreements, including action figures (yes, we were going to start with a Bat Boy Action Figure!) and books, were canceled. No publication, no existing brand, no interest. Oh well. The completed manuscript for the book, which I edited, exists. Here is the introduction written for this phantom book in September 2007:


MUTANT PETS, ALIEN SCHOOL BOARDS, AND YARD SALES: WEEKLY WORLD NEWS BOOK OF SUBURBAN LEGENDS
© Weekly World News

INTRODUCTION
I wasn’t there at the inception. I don’t have any great stories to tell about the good old days or the grand old names who started this wacky roller coaster of a ride going twenty-nine years ago.

Back then, I was just another Weekly World News reader, a mind hungry for truth in a world of increasingly corporatized and corporal news coverage. If I needed to know the details of an international trade agreement or the contents of a prepackaged presidential speech, I could always turn to the New York Times; when I hungered for news of a less down-to-earth nature, there were few places to go and most of those operated on the lunatic fringe.

This was, I hasten to add, long before the advent of the Internet. Today, every voice can be heard on the World Wide Web. Then, pre-technological leap, all we had was print. Now, I love print, but print material on the subjects that Weekly World News now covers routinely was hard to come by back in those days. And that which did exist was scattered all over the place; this organization covered U.F.O.s, that one hauntings, this other cryptozoology phenomena, another magic, and so on.

Then, one day in 1979, there it was.

A newspaper for the rest of us.

Weekly World News started life with an odd mixture of celebrity news and gossip and reportage of the unusual, quickly carving a niche for itself as the only newspaper to follow not only the natural world of human trials, tribulations and foibles, but the supernatural and the out-of-this worlds as well.

And the stories they ran, investigated and written by the top people in their fields, did open up literal new worlds for readers.

The mainstream wouldn’t touch the story of the Bat Boy found living in a West Virginia cave. Weekly World News picked it up and, in the quarter century since his discovery, we have become the exclusive outlet for news of this amazing human-bat hybrid.

Reporters for the major media outlets did not believe it when the first reports of Elvis sightings began to trickle in during the early-1990s. Weekly World News was the first to report the news that the King was still alive, and as recently as summer of 2007, we had the latest exclusive pictures.

And we continue to beat the big guys to any number of stories, the May 2007 discovery of a mysterious dip in gravity over the Hudson Bay region of Canada, anticipated by Weekly World News in its May 13, 2006 issue with the story of Lowgravienna, an Austrian town of weakened gravity being only the most recent example.


I’m no longer just a reader. I came onboard as a reporter in 2005, which was an eye-opening enough experience, but landing, a year later, behind an editorial desk was like going from Manhattan to Mars (funny story, that; unfortunately, classified). It’s a very different view from here, one best summed up by former managing editor Sal Ivon, who famously said, “If someone calls me up and says their toaster is talking to them, I don't refer them to professional help, I say, “Put the toaster on the phone’.”

Suffice to say, I’ve spoken to my share of ‘toasters’ in the past couple of years, as have the numerous Weekly World News reporters and stringers who cover the globe and the news beats beyond. Of course, we live in strange times, but it’s become increasingly clear to those of us who track these kinds of things that the strangeness has started hitting closer and closer to home...in fact, there are things going on in your own backyard that would shock and astonish even the most careful reader of our publication.

Weird has moved to the suburbs and Weekly World News is moving in with it. How do you know you can trust the stories in Mutant Pets, Alien School Boards, And Yard Sales: Weekly World News Book Of Suburban Legends?

First, because we interviewed a lot of toasters along the way to insure truth and accuracy.

And, second, because we’re the world’s only reliable newspaper.

Says so every week, right on the cover.

Paul Kupperberg
Executive Editor
October, 2007

Monday, August 11, 2008

Hey Kids--Comics!

Back in the 1990s, DC briefly licensed from Archie Comics their line of superheroes (the Fly, Jaguar, Black Hood, etc.) and published them, unsuccessfully, as the Impact Comics line. At some point, the line was canceled and a new editorial team was suppose to fix 'em and relaunch them. The fixes were made, a miniseries called The Crucible published, and there the line died. We had, however, started work on first issues of the three relaunched titles, which were to include a back-up feature running through them that I was writing. We made it as far as pencil art (by the excellent and soon to be star-artist Gene Ha) and lettering (by my go-to letterer guy and pal, John Costanza) before the pin was pulled on the project. So here is the first 5-page installment of the Steel Sterling feature. Just click on a page to view it at a readable size:

STEEL STERLING
© the respective copyright holders