This is interesting… In checking my blog’s statistics page, I see that on the list of search engine terms that led online searchers here to Written Worlds, there were two hits for “fan art for only superhuman.” I was intrigued to think that two people might be looking for Only Superhuman fan art, but I realized it was probably a single search that led to two different pages here, most likely the posts containing my sketches of Emerald Blair and Psyche Thorne. Still, it’s nice to know that someone out there is interested in OS fan art. Unfortunately, I did the same search myself and found nothing that fit the description. That’s a pity, since I’d love it if there were fan artists out there invested enough in the Green Blaze’s world to undertake some artwork. (Feel free to consider that an invitation.)
On the other hand, one of the search terms on today’s list is “only superhuman torrent.” I’m disappointed in you, whoever you are. I made little enough profit from this book as it is — I need whatever I can get.
The overwhelmingly dominant search terms that people use to find WW are things like “doctor who last words,” “first words of new doctor,” “last words of the [nth] doctor,” and so on, all leading to what I thought was a fairly random, frivolous compilation of The Doctor’s first and last lines, but which has turned out to be by far the most popular post in the history of my blog. I also get surprisingly many search terms leading folks to my “How to dismember a recliner chair” post, which is really not an advice column of any sort. But aside from the Doctor Who post, the most frequent category of searches leading here are those pertaining to Mission: Impossible. I’ve even come across the occasional searches like “mission impossible christopher bennett review [episode title]” — there are people out there actively searching for my M:I reviews by name. That’s gratifying. (And yes, I’ll be completing that series with my reviews of the movies in the days ahead.) And people sometimes search for Written Worlds by name, which is also nice.
Here are some more unusual ones I find in the list:
“re-atomizing human body by medbeds” — Hm. Must be a reference to my Elysium review, in which I did mention the term “medbed,” which is the term I use in the Only Superhuman universe for what Larry Niven called an autodoc. I’m surprised someone else would search for it by that term. Maybe a fan of my work? Or is the term in more general use than I’m aware of?
“anamated cartoon hot hensei girls in bikinis showing their bodies” — Ummm. Oh…kay, I have no idea how that led someone to my blog. “Hot composition girls?” That’s what “hensei” means. Kind of hard to search for Japanese cartoon porn if you don’t even know how to spell it.
“dune books in chronological order” — I don’t think I ever talked about those books here.
“karolina wydra eye” and “karolina wydra eye pupil” — I seem to have gotten things like this a few times that I know of, no doubt connecting to my Europa Report review. Not sure who’s so fascinated by her eye, though.
“how was your drive home” — Err, thanks for asking, but who would ask that of Google?
“teacher at aloha johnson” — No idea.
“acts 6:2 why does the holman use financial rather than wait on tables” — Did a human being type that?
“lesbian scene from massion impossible” — If only, man. If only.
I’m pleased to announce the sale of an original novelette, “The Caress of a Butterfly’s Wing,” to the online magazine Buzzy Mag. It’s a transhumanist love story set in a young, distant star system where human castaways have transformed themselves to survive among the asteroids. It may sound a bit similar to the setting of Only Superhuman — and in fact it’s set in the same overall universe — but the transhumanism here goes much farther than anything in Emerald Blair’s world.
I’m particularly pleased because this is a story I originally wrote a long time ago, around the time of my earliest sales to Analog, but was never quite able to get into a sellable condition. I got a slew of rejection letters from editors telling me it was a beautiful, poignant tale but didn’t quiiiite work for them, and I couldn’t figure out how to get it over that last barrier. Eventually I realized that, on top of that, I’d made some scientific mistakes in my portrayal of the setting, so I shelved it until I could figure out how to resolve both problems. And that’s where things stood for quite a while. But last year, I tried revising it to submit to a themed anthology that I felt it might work for, and I noticed a couple of plot problems I hadn’t spotted before and reworked the story to fix them. It didn’t quite fit the anthology, as it turned out, but apparently the revisions did the trick, since Buzzy Mag bought it. I’m really glad that the story will finally see the light of day after all these years.
This will be my fifth published work in my “default” universe, after “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide,” “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele,” “The Weight of Silence,” and Only Superhuman. It doesn’t really have any direct connections to any of the others, though — it’s too far removed in space and time for that. But it’s one more small step to fleshing out that universe and maybe, eventually, building it into a more unified whole. It’s also my first published default-universe tale since 2000 to be set outside the Sol System.
The publication date for “The Caress of a Butterfly’s Wing” hasn’t been determined yet, but I’ll announce it once it’s set.
I’ve added a new paragraph to my earlier post “ONLY SUPERHUMAN reader question: Measuring the Green Blaze’s powers,” since I realized there was one aspect of Emerald Blair’s superstrength that I forgot to address, one that occurred to me as a result of watching The Six Million Dollar Man on DVD. Here’s what I added:
It’s occurred to me to wonder: How high could Emry jump? Of course, that depends on the gravity, so let’s assume a 1g baseline. According to my physics textbook, the maximum height of a projectile is proportional to the square of its initial velocity (specifically, the velocity squared times the square of the sine of the launch angle, divided by twice the gravity). So if we use my earlier, very rough assumption that Emry’s speed relative to an unenhanced athlete goes as the square root of her relative strength, that would cancel out the square, and thus jumping height (for the same gravity and angle) would increase linearly with strength. If she’s four times stronger than the strongest human athlete today, then, it follows she could jump roughly four times the world record for the high jump. Except it’s more complicated than that, since we’re dealing with the trajectory of her center of mass. The current world record is 2.45 meters by Javier Sotomayor. But that’s the height of the bar he cleared, not the height of his center of mass. He used a technique called the Fosbury flop, in which the body arcs over the bar in a way that keeps the center of mass below it. So his CoM was probably no more than about 2.15 meters off the ground, give or take. And he was pretty much fully upright when he made the jump. since he’s 1.95 meters tall to start with, and the average man’s CoM height is 0.56 of his total height (or about 1.09 m in this case), that would mean the world-record high jump entailed an increase in center-of-mass altitude of slightly over one meter. So if we assume that Emry is doing more of a “bionic”-style jump, keeping her body vertical and landing on her feet on whatever she’s jumping up to, then she might possibly be able to raise her center of mass up to four meters in Earthlike gravity. Which means she could jump to the roof of a one-story building or clear a typical security fence — comparable to the jumping ability of Steve Austin or Jaime Sommers.
And just a reminder: I’m open to more reader questions about Only Superhuman or my other writing.
I’ve noticed that Only Superhuman has very few reviews posted on its pages at Amazon (11 as of this writing) and Barnes & Noble (7 as of this writing). I’ve gotten a fair amount of feedback for the book in various places, so I know people are reading it and talking about it, but surprisingly little of it is showing up on those two pages. Yet I gather that the reviews on those sites help generate attention for a book, at least among their customers. So I wonder if I could ask folks who’ve read the novel to post reviews on either or both of those pages. It doesn’t matter whether you bought the book there; this is about increasing attention and discussion. And of course I’m not just soliciting positive reviews. Please be honest, but make your thoughts heard. And feel free to use the like/share buttons on those pages too. And if you’ve listened to the audiobook versions of Only Superhuman or Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder, feel free to post reviews on their GraphicAudio pages.
If nothing else, getting more reviews might produce a more statistically useful sample size. As it stands, OS is averaging 2.8 stars out of 5 on Amazon and 4.5 out of 5 on B&N, so clearly the samples are too small to give representative results. Of course, what I’m asking for isn’t going to produce statistically unbiased results either, but it couldn’t hurt.
Feel free to do the same for any of my other novels as well, of course, although my Star Trek novels generally get more reaction already, and my Marvel novels are out of print. Only Superhuman is the one that I think could benefit the most. Plus it would just be nice to get more feedback from my readers.
I recently received a few questions about Only Superhuman from Brandt Anderson via a Facebook message, and I thought I’d address them here. Brandt wrote:
I enjoy most super hero novels such as Ex-Heroes, Paranormals, Devil’s Cape, etc., and one of the things that is always forefront on my mind is stats. I like knowing exactly how strong or how fast the super-powered character is. So, I was hoping you wouldn’t mind giving an approximation on how enhanced Emerald Blair is. Her strength, speed, reflexes, senses, healing factor and durability if you don’t mind. Also, I apologize for this amount of nitpicking, would you able to tell me what her superhuman attributes be at without any of the enhancements she has? And lastly, in your world, how strong is the average super-being and what is the normal human level at?
Those are interesting questions, though to be honest, I haven’t really worked out that many of the details. It’s worth thinking about if I get to do further novels, though, so I’ll try to offer some answers.
I did address Emerald Blair’s strength level in the novel when I had Eliot Thorne mention that she could “bench-press a tonne in one gee,” i.e. standard Earth surface gravity. That led me to the following analysis from my novel annotations:
From what I can find, the current world record for an unassisted or “raw” bench press (without the use of a bench shirt, a rigid garment that supports the muscles and augments the amount they can lift) for a woman in Emry’s weight class seems to be held by Vicky Steenrod at 275 lb/125 kg. Assuming Thorne was referring to what Emry could lift raw, that would make her 8 times stronger than Ms. Steenrod, at least where those particular muscles are concerned. And Emry’s training isn’t specialized for powerlifting but is more general, so that would probably make her even stronger overall. Not to mention that Thorne seemed to be talking about her typical performance, not a personal record. So as an adult Troubleshooter, with bionic upgrades on top of her Vanguardian mods, Emry might be at least 10 times the strength of an unenhanced female athlete of her size and build. That may be conservative, given some of what I’ve read about the possibilities of artificial muscle fibers. On the other hand, there are limits to how much stress the organs of even an enhanced body could endure.
By the way, the all-time raw bench-press world record is 323.4 kg by Scot Mendelson, who’s 6’1″ and over twice Emry’s weight. The assisted world record (with a bench shirt) is 487.6 kg by Ryan Kennelly, who’s about the same size and whose unassisted record is much lower. So going by what I figured before, that would make Emry nearly 4 times as strong as the strongest human beings alive today, and that’s without the added assistance her light armor would provide her (though she’d need to add sleeves to her armor to get the full effect). And that’s the lower limit. In any case, given all the bionic enhancements she’s added to her native strength, she might well be the strongest person in Solsys in proportion to her weight class, or at least right up there with the record-holders of her day.
According to my character profiles, by the way, Emerald’s height is 168 cm (5’6″) — at least in one gee or thereabouts, since people gain a bit of height in low or microgravity due to their skeletons being less compressed — and her mass is 69 kg (153 lb), which is a bit heavy for her size, but that’s because of the added weight of her bionics and reinforcements, as well as her dense musculature.
So that’s strength. What about speed? Well, I established in Chapter 6 that Javon Moremba, who’s specialized for running, could run at 60 km/h, which is just one and a third times the world record set by Usain Bolt in 2009. I’m not really sure how much it’s possible to increase human running speed without substantially restructuring human anatomy, since we’re already kind of specialized for running by evolution — although we’re specialized more for endurance running than speed, which was how our ancestors were able to be successful hunters and trackers. Javon’s anatomy is altered from the human norm, with atypically long legs and powerful joints and enlarged lungs. Emerald’s proportions are more normal, and her legs aren’t especially long; plus she’s not exactly lean. She’s built more for strength than speed. On the other hand, the athlete I modeled her physique after, tennis star Serena Williams, can be an astonishingly fast mover on the tennis court due to her sheer strength — though not as fast as her leggier sister Venus.
Okay, so we can safely assume that the teenage Emry couldn’t run as fast as Javon. She’s only 84% his height and less of it is legs, so let’s say she has 75% of his stride. I actually have her down as only 72% of his mass, though; I think I based Javon’s statistics on the aforementioned Mr. Bolt. I guess the question is, what’s the comparative ratio of total muscle mass to push with and total body mass to be pushed? I think I’ll avoid any complicated math and just go with visual intuition, which tells me that Emry has proportionally more excess bulk to deal with; but once she’s bionically enhanced, that might compensate.
So let’s say that with just her raw muscle, no cyborg upgrades, she’s got a minimum of 75% of his running speed, which would be equal to Bolt’s world record. But how much do her upgrades boost her strength? Well, we know that she was always strong enough in her adolescent years to match or overpower any man, and judging by those weightlifting figures above, a man’s maximum strength might be something around 2.5 times a woman’s, all else being equal. But many of those men would be mods themselves, so we’d need to up that. Still, I don’t want too much of her strength to be innate, since the bionics should contribute a lot. So let’s say that she started out roughly 3.3 times the normal strength of a woman of her build and had it tripled by her Troubleshooter bionics.
How does that apply to her running speed? This is probably oversimplifying like hell, but it seems to me that if you exert three times the force on the same mass, then by Newton’s second law you get three times the acceleration. Now, for a given distance, the time needed to cover it goes as one over the square root of the acceleration; and the rate is the distance over the time. So that would suggest, unless I’m doing something very wrong, that if she has three times the acceleration for each thrust of her leg muscles pushing her forward, then her speed would be increased by roughly the square root of three, or 1.73. So if her running speed without bionics was 45 km/h, then with bionics it’d be nearly 80 km/h (50 mph). Though she’s probably capable of bursts of even faster speed when she supercharges her nanofiber implants, as we saw when she made her skyscraper jump in Chapter 11. This would make her about 5/6 the typical speed of Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man, and half the top recorded speed of Jaime Sommers, the Bionic Woman. But let’s call that her sprinting speed. For endurance running, she’d probably average out a bit slower — let’s say 64 km/h (40 mph), which translates to a 1.5-minute mile — which would put her at better than two and a half times the female world record for the mile. It would also put her slightly above Javon’s indicated speed, but that was for a Javon who was out of training. (Oh, and keep in mind that this is assuming she’s in a full Earth gravity or close to it.)
There are other ways of measuring speed, though. How fast can she dodge a blow or throw a punch? That gets us into the next question, reflexes. Well, at one point in chapter 16 (p. 284 in the paperback), I say “Her enhanced reflexes made her dodge the shockdart before she was consciously aware of it, but her mind quickly caught up.” So her reaction time is certainly accelerated considerably beyond the norm, so much that it outpaces her conscious thought at times. And while her foot speed is not too much above normal, her dodging speed can be literally faster than a speeding bullet. Well, a speeding dart. If we assume the dart had a speed of around 300 m/s, comparable to an air rifle pellet and close to a 9mm bullet, and if she was maybe 15 meters away from the shooter, that would give her a twentieth of a second to react, or 50 milliseconds. That’s maybe twice the fastest recorded human reaction time for movement, and nearly four times the typical reaction time for a visual stimulus. And that’s just the reaction time she’d need to begin moving to dodge that particular dart. Add in the time it would take to move far enough to miss and she’d have to be even faster. Now, I found a factoid somewhere saying that Usain Bolt moves a foot every 29-odd milliseconds, which is about one centimeter per millisecond, so if we draw on the above comparisons to Bolt’s running speed (which is a horribly rough comparison, but it’s all I’ve got), the Green Blaze might be able to move 1.5-2 cm per millsecond, and her torso is maybe c. 32 cm at its widest point, so to dodge a dart fired at center mass she’d need maybe 8-11 ms. So she’d need to start moving within 40 ms or less, which would be 5 times average human reaction time. Just for a margin of safety and round numbers, let’s say her reaction time is 6 times average and 3 times maximum.
Edited to add: It’s occurred to me to wonder: How high could Emry jump? Of course, that depends on the gravity, so let’s assume a 1g baseline. According to my physics textbook, the maximum height of a projectile is proportional to the square of its initial velocity (specifically, the velocity squared times the square of the sine of the launch angle, divided by twice the gravity). So if we use my earlier, very rough assumption that Emry’s speed relative to an unenhanced athlete goes as the square root of her relative strength, that would cancel out the square, and thus jumping height (for the same gravity and angle) would increase linearly with strength. If she’s four times stronger than the strongest human athlete today, then, it follows she could jump roughly four times the world record for the high jump. Except it’s more complicated than that, since we’re dealing with the trajectory of her center of mass. The current world record is 2.45 meters by Javier Sotomayor. But that’s the height of the bar he cleared, not the height of his center of mass. He used a technique called the Fosbury flop, in which the body arcs over the bar in a way that keeps the center of mass below it. So his CoM was probably no more than about 2.15 meters off the ground, give or take. And he was pretty much fully upright when he made the jump. since he’s 1.95 meters tall to start with, and the average man’s CoM height is 0.56 of his total height (or about 1.09 m in this case), that would mean the world-record high jump entailed an increase in center-of-mass altitude of slightly over one meter. So if we assume that Emry is doing more of a “bionic”-style jump, keeping her body vertical and landing on her feet on whatever she’s jumping up to, then she might possibly be able to raise her center of mass up to four meters in Earthlike gravity. Which means she could jump to the roof of a one-story building or clear a typical security fence — comparable to the jumping ability of Steve Austin or Jaime Sommers.
So let’s move on to senses. We know from Ch. 3 that 13-year-old Emry’s “enhanced vision” let her make out the movements of the townspeople of Greenwood from some distance away, far enough that the curve of the habitat gave her an overhead view. Now, Greenwood is a Bernal sphere meant to simulate a rural environment with farmland and presumably forest. It should have a fairly low population density, and my notes give it a population around 3000 people. If we set the population density at maybe 30 people per square kilometer, that gives a surface area of 100 square km, for a radius of about 5 km and a circumference of 31.4 km. Now, just eyeballing it with a compass-drawn circle and a ruler, I’d say she’d need to be 1.5 to 2 km away to get the kind of raised angle described in the text. Now, being an assiduous researcher, I went out and braved the cold to visit my local overlook park to see if I could spot human figures at anything resembling that range. The farthest I was able to spot a human being was at a place that I estimate was about a mile/1.6 km away, with the park’s elevation, despite being a respectable 300 feet or so higher, too small to add significantly to the distance. But I just saw the faintest speck of movement. The scene indicates that Emry could see enough detail to make out body language and attitude. I’d say her resolution would have to be at least 3-4 times greater than mine (with glasses). Although we’re not talking about bionic eyes with zoom lenses, so it’s probably more a matter of perception of detail. Assuming my prescription is still good enough to give me 20/20 vision in at least one eye (which I probably shouldn’t assume), that would make Emry’s visual acuity something like 20/7 or 20/5 if not better; the acuity limit in the unaided eye is 20/10 to 20/8 according to Wikipedia. (20/n means the ability to see at 20 feet what an average person needs to be n feet away to see.) Hawks are estimated to have 20/2 vision. Emry isn’t specialized for eyesight, so let’s not go to that extreme. Let’s give her a baseline visual acuity of 20/5, say, about twice the human maximum.
So what do her bionics add? For one thing, they broaden her visual spectrum to the infrared. This is apparently something she can turn on and off. Now, it should be remembered that TV and movies tend to misrepresent infrared vision as being able to see through walls. Actually that usually wouldn’t work, since walls are generally designed to insulate, so heat — and thus IR light — doesn’t pass through them easily. And as I said in the book, glass is generally opaque to IR. So this wouldn’t be the equivalent of “x-ray vision,” except when dealing with less well-insulated things like human bodies. It could enable her to read people’s emotional states through their blood flow, though, or to track recent footprints and the like. She also has an inbuilt data buffer that’s shown recording images from her eyes and letting her replay, analyze, and enhance them later, projected on the heads-up display built into her retina. So that might give her sort of a “digital zoom” ability, to enlarge part of a recorded image, but not to increase its resolution beyond what her eyes could detect. And her implants might up her acuity to maybe 20/4.
As for her hearing, I haven’t established anything beyond the fact that it’s better than normal. She can probably hear a somewhat larger dynamic range than most people and has somewhat more sensitivity, but I’m not sure it could be enhanced too much without a substantial alteration to the anatomy of the ears. But she could have bionic auditory sensors that could allow her to amplify sounds further as needed. As for scent, I establish in Ch. 20 that Emry can track by it, though not as well as someone more specialized for the task like Bast or Psyche. So her sense of smell is, again, somewhat above normal but not massively so. Which would enhance her sense of taste accordingly as well. It’s possible she’s a supertaster, like a lot of real-life people. (In fact, looking over the list of foods that supertasters dislike, I think I might be one!) As for her sense of touch, it’s no doubt unusually sensitive, which is why she’s so hedonistic and easily stimulated. Although her pain sense is no doubt diminished in comparison to her other tactile perceptions. I gather that redheads are normally more sensitive to pain than most, but it stands to reason that her nociception would have been somewhat suppressed.
“Healing factor” is a tricky one; I’m not sure how to codify it. But she does have a fast metabolism and thus probably heals a bit faster than normal, and her bionics include a “nanotech immune-boosting and injury repair system,” as stated in her character bio. She can’t heal nearly instantly like Wolverine in the movies, since there would be physical and metabolic limits on how fast repairs could realistically be done, but she could probably heal, at a guess, 2-4 times faster than normal depending on the type of injury and whether she’s able to rest and replenish or has to heal on the run. (That’s complete guesswork, since I’m not sure where to find information on human healing rates, what the recorded maximums are, or what mechanisms could enhance them.) She’s also got an augmented immune system, both inborn and nanotech-enhanced; she’s probably got little or no experience with being sick, though she might be susceptible to a sufficiently potent bioweapon. She has toxin filters to protect her from poisoning and drugs. Alcohol would probably have little effect on her, but if she is a supertaster, she wouldn’t like the taste of it anyway. And it’s not like she needs help relaxing her inhibitions, since she hardly has any to begin with.
Durability, though, is something the Green Blaze has in abundance, thanks to her “dense Vanguardian bone” and the nanofiber reinforcements to her skeleton and skin. She’s not easy to hurt. She takes a good deal of pounding in Only Superhuman, but the only skeletal injury she suffers is a hairline wrist fracture which is compensated for by her nanofiber bracing. She rarely sustains more than cuts, bruises, and strains. She’s not exactly bulletproof — she needs her light armor for that — but there are enough reinforcements around her skull and vital organs that it would take a pretty high-powered rifle to inflict a life-threatening injury. Her skull reinforcements are probably comparable to a military ballistic helmet, so shooting her in the head would probably cause surface bleeding and a moderate concussion at worst, and more likely just make her mad. And of course her light-armor uniform gives even more protection, strength enhancement, and the like. (Note that this is as much a matter of micrometeorite protection as bullet protection.)
One power Brandt didn’t ask about is intelligence. Emerald Blair embraces her physical side more than her intellectual side, but her intelligence is easily at genius level. She’s definitely smarter than I am, since I have plenty of time to figure out the solutions that she comes up with on the fly. She’s far more brilliant than she realizes yet, and when and if she catches on and begins developing that potential, she could be a superbly gifted detective and problem-solver.
Brandt’s final question is, “And lastly, in your world, how strong is the average super-being and what is the normal human level at?” Well, the normal, unmodified human level is the same as it would be in real life, although people living in lower-gravity conditions would be less strong than Earth-dwelling humans. As for mods, I’m not sure there’s such a thing as an average one, since they’ve specialized in diverse directions. Only some are augmented for physical strength, like Vanguardians, many Neogaians, and Mars Martialis… ans… whatever. Honestly, I’m not sure to what extent physical strength would be needed as a human enhancement in Strider civilization. Combat in the future will be mostly the purview of drones and robots, or soldiers in strength-enhancing exoskeletons. So enhancing individual strength would be more a choice than a necessity, probably more likely to be done for athletics than anything else. Still, in a setting like Strider civilization, where mods have embraced superhero lore as a sort of foundational mythology, there would be an element of sports and celebrity to crimefighting or civil defense. More fundamentally, in a culture where human modification is embraced, physical strength could be seen as a desirable “biohack” just for the sense of power it provides. It’s like how some people like high-performance muscle cars even though they don’t need that much power to commute to work. I think in the Vanguardians’ case it was about exploring the limits of the human animal, finding how far we could be augmented in every possible way, both as a matter of scientific curiosity and as a symbolic statement to inspire others to mod themselves — and thumb their noses at Earth’s resistance to such things. The average Vanguardian might be somewhere around Emry’s pre-bionic strength level, maybe 3-3.5 times normal muscle strength for a given build, though they vary widely in their builds. Still, I think that Beltwide, only a certain percentage of mods would be tailored for strength, with others emphasizing endurance, senses, reaction time, intelligence, adaptation to particular environments, etc. (on top of the radiation resistance that everyone living in space would need).
So, to sum up the Green Blaze’s powers:
- Strength: c. 10x normal for a woman of her build or 4x baseline-human maximum
- Speed: up to 80 km/h (50 mph) in c. 1g environment
- Reaction time: c. 6x average or 3x human maximum
- Vision: c. 20/4 visual acuity, infrared vision, visual recording and enhancement
- Other senses: Moderately above human maximum range and sensitivity
- Healing: Somewhat accelerated healing and cellular repair; very strong immune system and toxin resistance
- Durability: Considerable resistance to abrasion, contusion, laceration, and broken bones; bullet resistance comparable to a human in moderate body armor
- Intelligence: Genius-level but underdeveloped
Note, however, that these are her innate power levels, not counting the further enhancements her light armor would provide to her strength, durability, and speed. But figuring those out would be a whole other essay.
Wow, I got a pretty long essay out of this. It was fun, and it could be useful for future adventures, hopefully.
So I’ll open the door. If anyone has further questions about Only Superhuman that haven’t been addressed already on my website, or more generally about my work, feel free to post them in the comments or on Facebook. Easy questions asked in the comments will probably be answered there, while more involved questions may spawn more essays. We’ll see how it goes.
Upcoming4.me, which bills itself as “an online speculative fiction magazine featuring best content from leading quality publishers and independent authors,” recently asked me to write an essay for their “Story Behind” column, in which authors discuss the genesis of their novels. I’ve talked about the convoluted creative process behind Only Superhuman before on this blog and elsewhere, but on thinking back for this new essay, I managed to find some things to say that I haven’t mentioned before. You can read the essay here:
I really ought to post something about New York Comic-Con, but I’ve been too busy or too tired. I’ll try to keep it concise.
I ended up driving after all due to the cost of plane fare after waiting so long to buy tickets. I planned out my route carefully this time, so it went fairly smoothly — but I set out too early on the second day and had a hard time staying alert. I didn’t really feel recovered until after lunch. So on the way back, I think I’ll spend the morning of the second day in the motel just resting, then get a good lunch, then drive the rest of the way home.
I’ve been staying with friend and fellow author Keith R.A. DeCandido, his fiancee, a family friend, several cats, and a large Golden Retriever. I was nervous about the latter, but he’s a friendly dog and I’ve been getting used to having him around. Indeed, there’s something reassuring about knowing a dog that big is sleeping outside your bedroom door, on sentry duty as it were.
The two days I spent at the con are kind of a blur right now, so to sum up: both my signings on Friday went pretty well. The GraphicAudio booth is in a good location and drew a lot of attention from passersby, and we got to sell a number of copies of my audiobooks, along with free copies of the prose books as a bonus — courtesy of Tor in the case of Only Superhuman, plus a few Spider-Man; Drowned in Thunder copies which I provided myself. I was expecting Tor to be offering the paperback, but their giveaway copies (half of which I took over to GA, the rest of which I signed for them to give out at Tor’s booth) were hardcovers instead. I guess that makes sense — they want to use up the stock now that people will mostly be buying the MMPB. But it made it more of a slog to carry them over to the GA booth through the Comic-Con crowd. Anyway, the giveaway copies moved pretty well, I was told. My A Choice of Futures signing at the SImon & Schuster booth went well too; this time people actually came to see me specifically rather than just happening to pass by.
I got to talk with a number of colleagues — Keith, of course, and the GA people, and fellow Trek author Kevin Dilmore, who works for Hallmark and was manning their display. It was nice to catch up with him. Unfortunately my former Trek editor Marco Palmieri, now at Tor, was too busy to talk much. I also had fun meeting Lilly, a friend of Keith’s who’s a professional balloon artist, and who performed at his booth to attract passersby. It’s an interesting craft, improvisational yet requiring a lot of meticulous manual control and precision.
Today I just stayed in and rested while Keith et al. went in to the con. I needed a day of quiet to recover before undertaking the drive home tomorrow. I did go down to the local pizza place for lunch, though, and had an excellent slice of white pizza with spinach.
That’s all for now. Maybe I’ll mention more details later, if any come to mind.
Sci-Fi Bulletin, a British genre site edited by my former Star Trek Magazine editor Paul Simpson, has just published an essay I wrote for them comparing the writing of Only Superhuman and Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder, timed to coincide with the release of the OS paperback in the UK. You can read it here:
Oddly enough, it’s indexed on the site under “Fantasy.” I guess that’s because superheroes are generally treated as a subset of fantasy; my hard-SF approach to the subject seems to be pretty unusual, though as the article points out, sometimes there was more science in Stan Lee and his Marvel cohorts’ creations than you might think.
Well, it’s been a bit of a mess trying to make arrangements for New York Comic-Con, since apparently they didn’t have enough tickets or something. They actually sold out of professional passes prematurely, before I could get one, so I had to buy regular tickets, and all they had left were Thursday and Friday tickets. So I’ll only be in attendance at NYCC on those two days — well, assuming my tickets ever arrive. The paperwork said they’d begin mailing them in mid-September, but I haven’t gotten mine yet. But there’s still two weeks to go, so I’m hopeful.
Anyway, I have two signings tentatively scheduled, both on Friday, October 11.
11 AM, Booth 838: GraphicAudio hosts a combined signing for the Only Superhuman audiobook, which will be on sale at the booth, and the mass-market paperback. which will be a free giveaway. There might be copies of the Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder audiobook on hand too, though I’m not sure.
4 PM, Booth 1828: Simon & Schuster’s booth hosts a Star Trek signing, which was hoped to be a group signing but so far is just me. I assume I’ll be signing copies of Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures.
There won’t be any scheduled event for me at the Tor booth (2223), which is why I’ll be doubling up on the MMPB and audiobook at the GraphicAudio event (and I’m very grateful to the GA folks for accommodating me). But I’ll surely be hanging around the Tor booth for a fair amount of time on Thursday and Friday, and there will be signed copies of Only Superhuman there as giveaways. No doubt I’ll drop by the S&S and GA booths on Thursday as well. Ticket gods willing, that is.
If there are any changes to the schedule, I will of course announce them promptly.
I’ve just recently finished listening to my copy of GraphicAudio’s adaptation of Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder, which was really well-done. Tim Getman did an excellent job as Peter/Spidey, with a voice reminiscent of ’90s animated Spidey Christopher Daniel Barnes and The Spectacular Spider-Man‘s Josh Keaton, and with a good grasp of both Spidey’s wisecracking side and his more angsty, bitter side. Terence Aselford’s Stan Lee-esque J. Jonah Jameson is very different from what I imagined when I wrote the book, but I quickly got used to it and it worked very well. Alyssa Wilmoth, who starred as Emerald Blair in Only Superhuman‘s audio adaptation, played Mary Jane Watson-Parker (the book is set before their marriage was erased from Marvel continuity), and it was interesting to hear how her characterization differed, painting MJ in lighter, subtler strokes than Emry. Lily Beacon was a fantastic Aunt May, reminding me at times of Nichelle Nichols’s voice. The rest of the cast, which has only a few overlaps with the Only Superhuman cast, was effective as well. Here’s the full cast list I was given:
Tim Getman as Spider-Man
Terence Aselford as J. Jonah Jameson
Alyssa Wilmoth as Mary Jane Watson
Lily Beacon as Aunt May
David Jourdan as Electro
KenYatta Rogers as Robbie Robertson
Regen Wilson as Ben Urich and Phineas Mason
Steven Carpenter as Alistaire Smythe
Jeff Allin as Reed Richards
Kimberly Gilbert as Dawn Lukens
Nora Achrati as Marla Jameson and Jill Stacy
Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey as Betty Brant
Mark Halpern as Blush Barrass and Bobby Ribeiro
Ren Kasey as Liz Allan
with Bradley Smith, Joe Brack, Casie Platt, Joel David Santner,
David Harris, Patrick Bussink, Thomas Penny, Christopher Scheeren,
Scott McCormick, Thomas Keegan, and Tim Pabon
Further credits are at the link above.
Anyway, I took notes while I listened so I could update my novel annotations to include the audio edition as well, as I recently did with Only Superhuman. I’ll have to listen again sometime so I can experience it with fewer interruptions. The annotations can be accessed from my Marvel Fiction page here:
I’m going to be doing a signing at GraphicAudio’s booth at New York Comic-Con next month, probably on Friday Oct. 11, although we’re still sorting out the schedule. I’ll post the info when I can.
By the way, while listening to the DiT audiobook so soon after my most recent listen to the OS audiobook, I realized something. Both Only Superhuman and Drowned in Thunder have scenes where an elderly female relative of the protagonist gives a speech that explains the thematic significance behind the novel’s title and contains a paraphrase thereof. I didn’t realize I was repeating that trope. Well, it’s surely not the only trope I’ve repeated in my career.
The interview I did for GraphicAudio’s “All in Your Mind” newsletter/podcast is now available. I had a nice chat with directors Richard Rohan and Nanette Savard about Only Superhuman, Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder, my work in general, and other stuff, running a bit under 40 minutes.
Here’s the direct link:
And if that doesn’t work, there’s also an MP3 link:
Look what just got delivered to my door:
It looks good. I’m a bit surprised that the spine is still green, since I’ve gotten used to the brown background of the front cover.
The books officially go on sale tomorrow (8/27), so there may be some on bookstore shelves even now.
And now that I have my copies of the MMPB, I’ll be able to double-check the page numbering and go live with my expanded annotations, which will encompass the hardcover, paperback, and audiobook editions of OS. There are a few minor textual adjustments, meaning that the paperback is now slightly more final and authoritative than the hardcover (although we’re talking, like, three single-word factual errors corrected, a missing number in the appendix restored, and a couple of typos fixed).
Here are some ordering links:
And here’s the link for the audiobook:
I do hope the book performs well in MMPB. I always felt it was more a paperback sort of tale anyway.
Here I am visiting GraphicAudio’s studio in Bethesda, Maryland on Monday, August 5th:
As I’ve mentioned, I was able to arrange this visit because I was staying with cousins half an hour’s drive from the GA studio. Based on their recommendations, I decided to take the Beltway route out there and the more direct East-West Highway back — but cousin Barb loaned me their GPS, and it kept trying to direct me to East-West on the way out and the Beltway on the way back! So I relied more on Google Maps printouts.
When I arrived, I also got a bit lost, since I went in by the stairs and the signs there only directed me to the upper floor where the processing and packaging is done. I needed to find someone to escort me down to the studios the floor below. There I was met by producer Richard Rohan, who turned out to have played Hanuman Kwan in Only Superhuman. He was aware I’d imagined Roddy MacDowall when writing the character, but said he didn’t have that voice in his repertoire. When I mentioned his performance reminded me of Tony Randall (which worked almost as well), he said he’d have to think about developing a Randall impression. I also met Nanette Savard, the audiobook’s director and narrator, and when I mentioned that I’d felt Greg Tai and Sally Knox had been perfectly cast, Nanette revealed that she had played Sally! I also briefly met Colleen Delany, who played Psyche Thorne, and who turns out to have a rather Psyche-like smile, very wide and bright. But I just missed a chance to meet Zephyr’s portrayer Thomas Keegan, with whom Nanette had just been finishing up a session when I arrived.
I was shown into the editing room where the above photo was taken, and I got to hear the opening scene of the Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder audiobook, plus a couple of other scenes later on. It was pretty well-done. The actor they’ve got playing Spider-Man (I don’t know his name yet) sounds not unlike Christopher Daniel Barnes, who played the role in the ’90s series that made me a Spidey fan, and whose voice I imagined when writing the book. Their version of J. Jonah Jameson isn’t anything like what I imagined (which was Ed Asner from the ’90s show), since they based their version on the fact that Stan Lee always wanted to play the role himself. No, they didn’t hire Stan, but their actor gives JJJ a very Stan-like quality. I also learned that Mary Jane Watson-Parker will be played by Alyssa Wilmoth, the same actress who played Emerald Blair — appropriate, since they’re both redheads.
I learned a lot of this from the trailer they played during the podcast interview, which made the story sound really exciting. I was listening in awe and thinking, “I wrote that?!” Anyway, Richard and Nanette interviewed me inside a cozy recording booth and we had a nice talk about both books. The podcast should be out within the week, and I’ll link to it when it’s available. They even let me go back in and do a retake when I belatedly remembered I’d forgotten to plug the upcoming Only Superhuman paperback. After the interview, they showed me the rest of their facility — mostly one big room where the directors and engineers work at a bunch of computers around the walls, but with some private offices for the producers and a couple of secondary recording booths. They had me sign a couple of copies of the audiobook as well as the OS poster in their lobby, and they gave me a green coffee mug with the company logo on it (though more lime green than emerald green).
Unfortunately they didn’t have any copies of DiT ready to give me, since Marvel hasn’t given final approval yet and they haven’t even printed any CDs. The box I’m holding in the above photo is a mockup they finished just moments before. But it sounds like it’ll be really cool, and I hope it’s a big seller. As I’ve mentioned before, I won’t get any more money from this, but I’m proud of the story and I want it to get more exposure. Plus it could attract more interest for Only Superhuman, and that could benefit me financially.
Speaking of which, I asked if I could have a fuller cast list than the one given on the audiobook, crediting who played what for more than just the lead roles. Nanette provided a list for me, so now I can give a fuller cast list for Only Superhuman, the audio:
- Nanette Savard: Narrator, Sally Knox
- Alyssa Wilmoth: Emerald Blair/Green Blaze
- Colleen Delany: Psyche Thorne
- Thomas Keegan: Zephyr, Taurean
- Elliot Dash: Eliot Thorne
- Ken Jackson: Javon Moremba
- Evan Casey: Gregor Tai
- Yasmin Tuazon: Koyama Hikari/Tenshi
- Tracy Lynn Olivera: Bast, Lydia Muchangi/Lodestar, Detective Barbour
- Barbara Pinolini: Rachel Kincaid-Shannon
- Richard Rohan: Jahnu Kwan/Hanuman, Erich Krieger/Wulf
- Christopher Scheeren: Yukio Villareal/Sensei
- Michael Glenn: Richard Shannon
- Kimberly Gilbert: Bimala Sarkar, Elise Pasteris/Tin Lizzy, Ruki Shimoda/Hikkaku
- David Coyne: Sanjay Bhattacharyya/Cowboy
- Eric Messner: Vijay Pandalai/Arjun
- James Konicek: Arkady Nazarbayev/Medvyed
- Elizabeth Jernigan: Lyra Blair, “Banshee” Starlet
- Nora Achrati: Maryam Khalid/Hijab, Dr. Monica Railey
- Joe Brack: Juan Lopez/Jackknife, Aaron Donner/Blitz, Daniel Weiss/Overload
- Nick Depinto: Marut Pandalai/Bhima
- Terence Aselford: Ken Auster/Paladin, Jorge Santiago
- Additional voices by Thomas Penny, Michael John Casey, James Lewis, Joel David Santner, and Steven Carpenter
Hopefully I’ll have a cast list for Drowned in Thunder as well once that comes out.
By the way, here’s the list of GA’s DC Comics cast members. Turns out Richard Rohan plays Batman — and the Joker! (That must make for some interesting recording sessions.) Nanette Savard is Lois Lane, Colleen Delany is Wonder Woman, and James Konicek, who played Arkady, is their Superman.
Before I left, they let me know that they had plans to attend the New York Comic-Con in October. I plan to be there to promote the OS paperback, so I’ll be sure to visit their booth and maybe do some promotion of their adaptations. I’ll be sure to post information about my appearance schedule once it’s arranged.
Well, it’s been an eventful few days, with little time to post anything. The drive to Baltimore was agreeably uneventful, except for the night I spent in a very cheap motel with no amenities and spiders in the tub and corners. (Could’ve been worse. Spiders are basically harmless and keep other pests at bay.) And except for the sore shoulder I’m dealing with in the wake of my marathon writing session to finish Tower of Babel.
I got into the hotel around noon on Friday and promptly ran into Greg Cox, who, like me, was waiting for his room to be ready. We spent a while catching up, having a good long chat. Later that afternoon, he and I went to dinner with Marco Palmieri, Klingon language expert Lawrence M. Schoen (who just signed a book contract with Tor), and fellow Tor novelist (and one-time Star Trek: Strange New Worlds contributor) Rod Belcher, and we talked Tor for a while. I had a really nice hummus-and-pita appetizer followed by a pretty good spaghetti with tomato-and-basil sauce. Then we went to my first panel, announcing Tor’s recent and upcoming schedule — basically the same thing Marco and his fellow editor Margaret Clark used to do for Star Trek books, but now for Tor’s much broader line of books, including the upcoming mass-market paperback of Only Superhuman. David Mack helped run the slide show, and in return he was granted the opportunity to announce the exciting new Trek project reuniting him with his Vanguard collaborators Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore, Star Trek: Seekers, which you can read about here.
After that came the annual Meet the Pros book-signing event, which was pretty well attended this year, since William Shatner was at the con and thus it drew a larger crowd. I got to catch up with several of my fellow authors/friends. I only managed to sell one copy of OS that night, though, but I also managed to sell one of the copies of Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder that I brought with me.
Saturday, after having breakfast in my room and finally figuring out how to get onto the Internet from the hotel, the first thing I did publicly was to visit the book dealers’ table, where I did the traditional one-hour shift in what Marco Palmieri (IIRC) has now dubbed the Author Chimney — a narrow space between two brick pillars, just wide enough for one person to sit and sign books for passersby. It’s right near the concession stand where they sell burgers and hot dogs (the only relatively inexpensive place to eat in the hotel now, since the cafe closed when the hotel changed owners recently), so I had my lunch there. I think I moved two copies of OS and convinced a couple of others to check out the e-book.
Then I had my marathon of panels, the topics of which I covered in my previous post. That’s all kind of a blur, but it went pretty well. As a bonus, for the panel “Did Man of Steel Tarnish Superman?”, Dave Mack and I had the privilege of being joined by a surprise guest, Paul Kupperberg, who’s written and edited many Superman comics and was more qualified than either of us to discuss the topic. The consensus: No, Superman’s untarnished since he still exists in many media, but the movie rather screwed up his depiction. I was glad to move from there to the Legend of Korra panel, which was a lot of fun. But by the time the final panel rolled around, I was feeling pretty worn out and punchy. Before it, I’d tried to get a granola bar from the vending machine in what was left of the cafe, but I misread “E5″ as “F5″ and got animal crackers instead, which I didn’t want. Then, after the panel, I got a microwave entree out of the carousel vending machine, but the microwaves in the cafe were too low-power to heat it adequately, as I found out when I got it back to my room. After another couple of tries, I just gave up on it and threw it away, and went out to try to find some other place to eat. A fellow guest, Steve Wilson (writer of a couple of my favorite DC Trek comic issues) reminded me that the grocery store across the road had a good deli, so I drove over, got a pasta salad, and finally, finally got to retire to my room for the evening.
Sunday began with the traditional authors’ brunch, and then I attended a talk that NASA scientist Paul Abell — husband of Trek author Amy Sisson — held about the Chelyabinsk meteor explosion last year. Turns out he’s one of the team members involved with detecting potential Earth-threatening asteroids, a division called “planetary defense.” But he tells me their offices do not particularly resemble the Hall of Justice.
Speaking of which…
EDIT: Here’s that scan:
Oh, here’s a funny sign I saw at the con and had to photograph:
After getting a hot dog and chatting with Greg and Keith DeCandido during the latter’s stint in the Author Chimney, I joined Paul for a panel on the science and fiction of asteroids, comparing what I did in OS with his real-life knowledge of the field — although, since this is me, there was nearly as much science on my side as his. The next panel in the same room, which mistakenly got left off the schedule grid, was on writing Star Trek: TOS and the challenge of finding something new to say. I ended up joining the panelists for that one and talking about my post-TMP work. Finally came my solo Q&A panel, which was rather poorly attended, since people were going home by that point. But the few people who were there got to be the first to whom I showed the cover for the upcoming Drowned in Thunder audiobook (which I’d downloaded onto my laptop just minutes before):
Which I think is a panel from the same comics scene that Marco wanted the novel’s cover artist to use for inspiration. (It’s not the exact same page, but it’s clearly by the same artist (John Romita, Jr.) and looks like an earlier panel in the same sequence.) I also got to talk for a while about my upcoming Analog novella “Make Hub, Not War,” which should be out in a month or so.
After that, I left the con and drove to the DC suburbs to stay with cousins Barb and Mark, and I’m typing from their guest room. I’ve just gotten back from my visit to GraphicAudio’s studio, which was very cool and which I think deserves its own post. To be continued…
Okay, first the good news: I turned in the manuscript for Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel on time yesterday. Honestly, it was a close one. Even though I gave myself plenty of time, I had difficulty getting a handle on this one. I was sick when I put the outline together and it was very rough, so it was hard to get a grip on the story. I also made the story rather complicated, covering a lot of different places and events, which slowed me down because I had to create a lot of separate worlds and situations, and beginnings are the slowest parts because I have to take time to figure everything out first. Kind of like in film/TV — every new set needs to be designed and constructed, so the more sets you have, the more time and effort you have to expend. Anyway, I finally got a handle on it, refined and fleshed out the story, and made the deadline, but there may still be some polishing to do. And I drove myself so hard toward the end there that the stress and heavy typing have left me with a very sore and inflamed shoulder, so as soon as I turned in the MS I went to see the doctor and got a prescription for the pain. But last night I got the best, most relaxing night’s sleep I’ve had in months. (I even had a dream about my beloved old cat Tasha! Awwww.)
So hopefully my shoulder will be better in time to drive to Shore Leave in a couple of days. To that end, I should go easy on the typing and get on to the schedule that’s just been posted. Not sure if this is completely final, but here are the panels/appearances I’m scheduled for at the moment:
Tor Books: New and Upcoming — 9 PM, Hunt Ballroom
This will mostly be Tor editors Marco Palmieri and Greg Cox talking about the new books they have coming out over the next year, but I’ll be there to shill the upcoming mass-market paperback of Only Superhuman.
Meet the Pros — 10 PM, Hunt/Valley Corridor
The annual 2-hour mass signing event where all the author guests will be available to autograph whatever you bring or buy.
The Future History of Star Trek’s Past in Prose — 1 PM, Chase Ballroom
A panel about explorations of the Trek universe’s history in prose. Mainly an excuse for me to talk about Rise of the Federation, but it’ll also feature Michael Jan Friedman (author of Starfleet: Year One, the previous attempt to cover the beginnings of the Federation, which was overwritten by Enterprise) and David Mack (who dealt with the ENT era memorably in Destiny). I was hoping we could also get Greg Cox, who’s done so much with Gary Seven, Khan, and the like in his books, but he’s got a Superheroes on Film panel at the same time.
From Tie-in to Original — 2 PM, Chase Ballroom
The third annual panel letting us tie-in authors shill our original work, this time with me, Ann C. Crispin, Peter David, Keith R.A. DeCandido, and Jo Wymick.
Did Man of Steel Tarnish Superman? — 3 PM, Chase Ballroom
My third consecutive hour in Chase, and I was hesitant to sign up for this one, but yeah, I have some unusually strong opinions about Man of Steel and I guess this’ll be me and Dave Mack and the audience talking about it for an hour.
The Legend of Korra: Let’s Review — 4 PM, Salon F
Yayy, I finally get out of Chase! And I get to chat with Marco Palmieri and the audience about the glory that is Korra. (Good thing I just DVRed the whole series. I can spend the day catching up on the show and resting my shoulder.) Although I expect a very small audience since William Shatner will be in the big ballroom at the same time.
Writing Alien Aliens! — 5 PM, Belmont Room
My Saturday marathon wraps up as Rigel Ailur, Mary Louise Davie, and I talk about the science of creating interestingly exotic alien species and characters.
Science Fiction of Asteroids — 1 PM, Belmont Room
A rare crossover of the SF and science guests. I wrote a book set in the asteroid belt, and science guest Paul Abell is an asteroid expert, so I thought, let’s get together and talk ‘stroids! We’re joined by author Melissa Scott as well.
Christopher Bennett — 4 PM, Salon A
Yup, just me for an hour. I’ll be there to talk and answer fan questions about Rise of the Federation, Only Superhuman, the upcoming audiobook of Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder, my upcoming “Make Hub, Not War” in Analog, and anything else I’ve done.
FYI — there will be a replica of the ’66 Batmobile — aka the only true Batmobile — at the con. I will definitely be there at some point and will probably want to be photographed in it. (I hope someone gets a photo of Shatner sitting in the Batmobile. That might cause a critical mass of geek nostalgia and tear a hole in the space-time continuum, but it will be worth it.)
Well, I finally got my author copies of the Only Superhuman audiobook adaptation from GraphicAudio. It’s been getting uniformly 5-star reviews at their site, which is nice to see. Here’s what it looks like:
(There are seven discs, in four two-pocket sleeves. No liner notes or anything, just a GraphicAudio catalog and a promotional postcard for a couple of their other products.)
So what does it sound like? Pretty good. Naturally my experience of it is going to be different from most people’s, since I’ve had my own idea about what the major characters sound like for years, and can’t help comparing the voice cast and their performances against the soundtrack in my head. And naturally, a number of the voices and performance choices are different from what I imagined. But considering that I had no input into the production, it’s actually gratifying how close it comes to what I had in mind.
GraphicAudio is apparently based in the DC area, since (as far as I can Google) many of their actors seem to be stage performers from that area. Unfortunately, the end credits only list the five lead performers by role, so I can’t identify who played the rest of the characters.
The director and narrator is Nanette Savard (who also plays Lois Lane for the company’s DC Comics adaptations), who has a voice quality a bit like how I imagine Emerald’s voice — not much, but enough to make her an appropriate choice to narrate a book told mostly from Emry’s POV. (And enough to spark the idle thought that maybe the narrator is an older Emry, or maybe a descendant, telling the story in retrospect.) She does a solid job, striking a good balance between detachment and emotional expressiveness.
Emerald herself is played by Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan (billed here as Alyssa Wilmoth). She’s not exactly what I had in mind (she’s mezzo rather than full soprano), and she’s not the screamer Emry’s described as in the text (which might’ve been too hard on the actress’s voice, granted), but she’s actually quite a good choice for the role vocally, with the right kind of rough edge and attitude, and she does a good job of capturing Emry’s blend of street-hardened toughness and youthful vulnerability. I’m really quite pleased with her performance, especially in some of Emry’s big emotional speeches in the final chapter or two. Wilmoth’s husband Thomas Keegan plays Zephyr, and he’s almost exactly what I was going for — a mellow baritone with a very human, laid-back, amiable delivery, rather than something more robotic as I feared we might get. Having a married couple play Emry and her devoted ship is a good choice chemistry-wise.
Eliot Thorne is played, coincidentally, by Elliot Dash, who’s very effective in the role. Dash’s voice took me a bit of getting used to, since I’ve always imagined Thorne as sounding like Avery Brooks or Keith David’s Goliath from Gargoyles, a smooth, controlled basso, while Dash’s voice reminds me more of Paul Winfield’s, and he imparts the role with more passion and less reserve than I imagined. Still, he gives the role the gravitas, intensity, and oratorical splendor it deserves.
I’m afraid I wasn’t quite as impressed by Colleen Delany (also GraphicAudio’s Wonder Woman) as Psyche. She has broadly the right type of voice and does an okay job, but her performance is a bit too polished and announcer-like to be entirely convincing for me. Perhaps the problem is that the bar in my mind is set so very high. Psyche’s supposed to have an incredibly beautiful, warmly seductive voice, a smooth and mellow alto — my ideal voice-casting choice would be Gina Torres. It would’ve been difficult to find anyone who really lived up to my hopes.
As for the rest of the cast, there are more hits than misses, and I wish I could match the actors to the roles. The performers playing Greg Tai and Sally Knox are ideal. The portrayers of Emry’s parents splendidly capture their personalities; Lyra’s pitch is lower than what I had in mind, but that was probably a better choice in terms of casting a maternal voice. Arkady Nazarbayev turned out very well; I didn’t have a clear voice for him in my head, but they cast an actor who sounds uncannily like Clancy Brown, which is just the sort of voice-casting choice I might’ve made myself had it occurred to me. Javon Moremba is very close to what I wanted, and in fact the way their actor delivered the line “But I loved this car!” was almost exactly what I hear in my head. And while there was no hope of getting Hanuman Kwan to sound like he does in my head (because I wrote him with Roddy McDowall’s inimitably wonderful voice in mind, despite claiming he was Australian), their actor, while more of a Tony Randall-ish baritone, captured the delivery and personality I had in mind quite well. Plus, though it’s a tiny role, Blitz is handled better than I ever imagined, sounding almost like a Mark Hamill villain voice. Other supporting characters like Rachel, Lodestar, and Hijab are solidly handled.
There are a few choices that don’t work as well for me. I feel their Koyama Hikari was miscast; the actress’s voice and delivery would’ve worked well for Ruki Shimoda but just aren’t right for Kari. I’m not crazy about their Cowboy, whose accent is too goofy; granted, it’s supposed to be a corny affectation that Emry finds ludicrous, but they took it too far and I feel it undermines the character’s menace. And their Sensei Villareal is just completely wrong. Sensei is supposed to be a wise, charming mentor figure, a respected hero renowned for his integrity, an aging swashbuckler and Latin lover. (My mental model for the character was Henry Darrow, who played Zorro in two early ’80s shows and Zorro’s father in a ’90s show.) The actor here doesn’t come close to conveying any of that, and has a stilted and unconvincing delivery. It’s the one performance that works against, not only my own intentions and expectations, but what’s actually there in the spoken text.
Still, given how many voices they had to cast, and given my total lack of input beyond what’s on the page, it’s impressive that there were so few misses.
(Other “voices in my head” that guided me as I wrote: For Emry, Lenore Zann, the voice of Rogue from the ’90s X-Men animated series — though I often thought Bernadette Peters would be a good alternative, and lately I’ve felt that Amy Jo Johnson’s voice would be a great fit. For Tai, Daniel Dae Kim. For Javon, Khary Payton. For Bast, Julie Newmar or Eartha Kitt. For Zephyr, I’ve always tended to imagine Kevin Conroy doing a deeper version of his Bruce Wayne voice, but I’ve never been sure that was the best choice; Zephyr’s supposed to have a voice women find really sexy, and that’s not something I’m particularly qualified to assess. Thomas Keegan actually sounds a lot like Conroy, though with a bit of David Hyde-Pierce mixed in.)
I do wish they’d consulted me on a couple of pronunciations, though, as well as some of the casting choices. They use Americanized pronunciations for “Villareal” and “Lydie Clement” (they rhyme “Lydie” with “Heidi”) when I intended them to have, respectively, Spanish and French pronunciations. On the other hand, I realize that I’ve been Americanizing the pronunciation of “Arkady” all these years, saying it like “arcade-y” when the Russian A is pretty much always pronounced “ah.” So the audiobook has set me straight on that one.
So what about the adaptation of the text? At nearly 8 hours, it’s fairly thorough, but not comprehensive; a significant amount of stuff is trimmed out. In particular, Kari’s scenes are heavily cut down, making her a considerably more minor character here than in the original. (Ironic, since I’ve grown very fond of Kari and intend to feature her heavily if there are sequels.) In general, supporting characters’ backstories are glossed over, so a lot of the personal detail — as well as some of the technical detail and exposition — is absent. Action scenes are streamlined, which makes sense from a pacing standpoint; and most of the sex is trimmed down or omitted, though a lot of the nudity remains (and there’s even one point where the streamlining of the text results in more nudity than there was originally). A few of the cuts are a bit awkward, though, deleting a scene but leaving in a later reference to something from that scene. (In particular, Kari’s battle peace and personal guilt are mentioned even though the explanations for both are deleted.) There are a couple of points where lines are assigned to the wrong character, but they’re ambiguous enough that they kind of still work that way. Also, it’s not based on the final copyedited draft of the manuscript; there are some details and word choices that I remember altering in the final version, and my last-minute addition of Kari using high-tech tessen fans as weapons is missing.
There are a couple of sound-editing choices that surprised me, but I realize it’s because of the lack of stage directions I gave. One is the scene in chapter 3 where someone notifies Lyra Blair of an incident young Emerald was involved in, which I wrote as dialogue-only for effect; I always assumed it was someone coming to Lyra’s front door, but here it was interpreted as a phone call. That probably makes more sense, come to think of it. And the brunch scene with Emry and Grandma Rachel (here called lunch instead) was supposed to be a very private, personal conversation in Rachel’s home, but they did it with restaurant ambience in the background. I guess I needed to make the setting clearer than I did. It’s a common failing of mine, writing a scene with too little description of the setting. Or maybe they chose to change it for acoustical variety. I suppose their interpretation could work if the characters were in a private booth or balcony of some sort, isolated enough that they wouldn’t be overheard by other diners.
But while there are some details that could’ve been improved if I’d been consulted (something I should try to negotiate for in future contracts), overall it’s an impressive work. The majority of the actors are appropriately cast and give good, convincing performances, and the sound effects and Foley work are good (although I’m not crazy about the use of sound effects for things happening in vacuum, particularly when they were being described in narration anyway). The music seems to be drawn from a stock library spanning a variety of styles, but it mostly fits fairly well and is used in appropriate places. All told, this is certainly the most lavish audiobook production I’ve ever heard.
In sum, this is a good supplement to the novel, but not an exact, unabridged equivalent to the prose version. Rather, it’s an adaptation, an alternative take on the story. To those who’ve only bought the audiobook, I’d recommend getting the novel for the complete, canonical story; if you don’t want to spring for the hardcover or e-book, the paperback’s only 6 months away, or at least you could look for it at the library. As for those who’ve bought the novel, I’d say the audiobook is still worth getting, a good interpretation of the novel, capturing the essentials of what I created (mostly) but putting a different spin on it, thus adding another dimension to the experience. Besides, I don’t know if there will ever be a movie adaptation (Hollywood doesn’t seem interested in female-led superhero films these days), so this may be the only dramatization the story ever gets.
And heck, it’s just impressive that a bunch of actors and other folks got together to put on a performance of something I wrote, to bring it to life. And that most of them really seemed to get it, just from what was on the page. Both of those are quite heartening, and I’m grateful for the hard work and care the creators and performers put into this adaptation.
I just checked Amazon’s page for the Only Superhuman audiobook, and it says they’ve nearly sold out — only 3 left in stock — and have had to order more copies. That’s a nice thing to see. Of course I don’t know how many copies they ordered to begin with, but demand exceeding supply has got to count as good performance in any case.
And if Amazon does sell out, the audiobook can always be ordered (in CD or download form) from GraphicAudio itself.
Unfortunately I still haven’t managed to get a copy of the audiobook myself. Hopefully that can be arranged soon.
I was checking my sales rank for Only Superhuman on the online bookstore sites just now, and I noticed they’ve now got the cover image for this September’s mass-market paperback edition of the novel. Here it is:
Note that they’ve rotated the artwork 90 degrees clockwise from how it appears on the hardcover. One thing I noticed about the cover art from the start is that it works pretty well in either orientation, so it’s kinda nice that it’s being used both ways. I also quite like the italicized and color-graded version of the title text. Oh, and I like it that my name is printed bigger. ;)
In other news, the audiobook edition of OS has intermittently been making it onto Amazon’s top 100 sellers list for SF and Fantasy books on CD. It hasn’t been staying there consistently, and I don’t think it’s made it above #50 yet, but it’s nice to see.
It’s here! GraphicAudio’s page for their Only Superhuman audiobook now has purchasing links active:
It’s available in two formats: A set of 7 CDs available for a new-release price of $13.99 USD (regular $19.99) and an MP3 download for $12.99. Note that the run time has been revised to approximately 8 hours.
They also have credits available, though they don’t specify who’s playing whom:
Directed by: Nanette Savard
Starring: Nanette Savard, Alyssa Wilmoth, Colleen Delany, Thomas Keegan, Elliot Dash, Ken Jackson, Evan Casey, Yasmin Tuazon, Tracy Lynn Olivera, Barbara Pinolini, Richard Rohan, Christopher Scheeren, Michael Glenn, Kimberly Gilbert, David Coyne, Eric Messner, James Konicek, Elizabeth Jernigan, Nora Achrati, Thomas Penny, Michael John Casey, Joe Brack, Nick Depinto, James Lewis, Joel David Santner, Terence Aselford and Steven Carpenter
Book Adapted for GraphicAudio by: Johann Dettweiler
Dialogue Editor: Nathanial Perry
Sound Designer: Nathanial Perry
Additional Original Music by: Thomas Hogan and Dan Sondak
Producers: Richard Rohan and Duane Beeman
Executive Producer: Anji Cornette
There’s a sample clip from the audiobook now available at GraphicAudio’s site:
The clip doesn’t feature much dialogue, but the actress they’ve cast as Emerald Blair (not sure if it’s the same woman doing the narration, and the credits aren’t up yet) is reasonably close to what I had in mind. She actually sounds kind of like Tara Strong, one of my favorite voice actresses, who doesn’t sound quite like I imagine Emerald but who’s enough in the ballpark that I’d actually considered her as a candidate for Emerald’s voice if there was ever an audiobook. (Although I think my ideal choice would be Amy Jo Johnson. The voice I originally heard in my head for Emry was Lenore Zann, who played Rogue on the ’90s X-Men animated series, but Johnson’s work on Flashpoint has won me over.) As it turned out, I had no input into casting on the audiobook, so I was a little nervous about whether they’d cast Emerald appropriately. I’m much more reassured now.
I read along in the book as the clip played, and it’s not a complete, word-for-word rendition of the text, but most of it is there. Honestly, there were some bits of description that maybe they could’ve trimmed more. My rather verbose style actually sounded a little odd to me spoken aloud.