My son, Shane Aaron Cummings just completed basic training. I’m a very proud father. He’s in the best shape of his life and has acquired a work ethic and confidence he will carry with him all his life. Onward.
I love westerns and if you ask my wife how often I complain about the need for a good western film to be thrown in among dog pile of superhero films being made these days, she’d tell you to wait five minutes. I love a good western novel too, but it’s been years since I’ve read one because while I like my fantasy books to be hard and fast (Dresden, John Taylor, Alex Verus) I love a western novel to play out in CinemaScope inside my brain. In short, for a western book to grab me, it has to be epic in the cinematography of language. It has to basically be John Ford’s The Searchers in print, to grab my attention.
What makes Laura Anne Gilman’s SILVER ON THE ROAD a phenomenal read is that not only does she write in CinemaScope, it’s that she has created characters that you want to spend time with in a world that is so far removed from our day-to-day lives that you can taste the dust in your mouth with every turn of the page.
Izzy is about to turn sixteen – a woman, by the standards of the old west. She lives in simply, “the Territory” in a town called Flood and she works for “the Boss” or, as you discover his other name “the Devil”. He not only runs the town but who also runs the territory. His word is law and Izzy has a choice to make. She can stay in the Territory or she can leave and explore the outside world. And the Territory is a magical place – a fusion of old west and myth. If you see a magician, you run – Izzy doesn’t. (Not the kind that will pull a rabbit out of a had. Let’s just say they’re an amalgam of sorcery and insanity.) It’s a world where snakes talk, where those who aren’t quite human dwell alongside riders like Gabriel, Izzy’s mentor. He’s bound to the Territory and he just wants peace. He’s made a bargain with the Devil on the heels of a bargain that Izzy has made as well. She wants a measure of power and respect. The Devil gives it to her by making her his left hand. Gabriel must taker her out for a mentorship on the road and from the moment the pair leave Flood, the reader is drawn into a slow burn of a story with a page-turning plot featuring an unnameable, unknowable evil that conjures up the image of the Angel of Death sweeping across the land.
As with every hero’s journey, Izzy must confront the creature responsible for the deaths and disappearance of Territory residents. All the while she must unravel its mystery and meaning while at the same time learning that her deal with the Devil has given her power … just not her power. She is his representative in the Territory and her word is his law. The sad irony is that as Izzy learns that she possesses skills and abilities, they’re not really hers when she so wanted to be independent, powerful and ultimately, respected in the man’s world that Gilman so masterfully recreates.
Gabriel is a flawed mentor with his own demons. He offers Izzy a hard mentor-ship at first, but as the pair encounter the evil running rampant throughout the Territory, he goes from mentor to someone who actually cares for his apprentice and is willing to lay his life on the line to protect her. Only he can’t – he knows this and as the story evolves, the power imbalance in his relationship with his apprentice shifts toward Izzy because ultimately, she is the Devil’s left hand on the road and we’re not entirely sure Gilman’s Devil is of the hell fire and damnation kind. He’s an enigma and he isn’t. He is always present throughout the book and it is Izzy who must carry the sheer enormity of his presence inside the Territory.
Silver On The Road is the kind of book that features a female protagonist you feel invested in by the time you’re done reading. You care about Izzy. You want her to find her power and respect. You cheer her on as she confronts uppity marshals, magicians and monsters that ‘crack your bones’. There is clever world building throughout that presents an alternate universe old west where magic and myth are bonded together like a rider sitting high in the saddle. It is beautifully written and easily the best book of the year.
*AHOY! THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD!*
And I don’t care because I loved it.
I loved it right from the minimalist font used for the film’s titling as we dream-sequence the funeral of Bruce Wayne’s parents right down to the recycled GGI cave troll from Lord of the Rings they used as Doomsday. That was special.
I actually liked Affleck’s grey-tipped Bruce Wayne thundering across the screen in a brand new Jeep Renegade (which is a Fiat, btw) *thank you product placement. I noticed most of the vehicles were Chrysler products*. I loved that at no time in the film (that I can recall) is he called Batman, just “the bat” or “the Gotham bat”. I loved the insane Batmobile car chase – this Batmobile was cooler than Christopher Nolan’s Batmobile IMHO.
I loved that, as with most Zack Snyder films, there are big, ENORMOUS giant heads on the screen followed by slow motion. Lots and lots and lots and lots of slow motion. Right down to the cartridge case falling to the ground during Superman’s funeral. Did I mention that Supes kicked the bucket? Well he had to, Doomsday did it. (Yes, I know he’s not the same kind of Doomsday from the comic of more than two decades past, but then basically every superhero film pisses all over canon, (I think organic web shooters might have been the start of it, but who cares really because they sure as hell screwed up Spider-Man 3, didn’t they?)
I loved Jesse Eisenberg’s mad as a hatter Lex Luthor (though the gold standard for me will always be Gene Hackman’s) I wasn’t crazy about Amy Adams’ Lois
Lane though I was surprised that she and Clark Kent were living together since 2013’s Man of Steel. I love that Clark Kent climbed into the bathtub with her and hey, that’s not horrifyingly daring since it was 36 years ago when Superman took Lois to his Fortress of Solitude to give up his powers and get jiggy with Lois in a shiny bed comprised from a shiny super-kryptonian textile that never needs to be washed. Their love won’t ever be denied and anyway, there was only about five minutes of actual relationship time for the two during the whole film as Superman had bigger things to do, like justify his existence to Washington’s politicians.
I loved that Bruce Wayne has a secret file on other Meta Humans (hello Aquaman, Flash, Cyborg and Wonder Woman). I loved their little intros – particularly poor old Cyborg’s painful assembly complete with blood curdling screams. I liked flash in the convenience store. I liked Aquaman zooming through the water after nailing the aqua-paparazzi with his trident of awesomeness. I loved the little avatars on the computer. The Bat knows everything about everyone. Always. (But Superman must be stopped.)
I love that Diana Prince is on her own mission in the film and that, again, in my humble opinion, Zack Snyder got her down perfectly in that old photograph.
I actually heard a few people in the crowd say “awesome” and “cool”. I loved that she was bang on awesome in the fight with Doomsday – a gladiator with a shine in her eyes and a grin on her face. This Wonder Woman loves the battle and I cannot freaking WAIT for her film to come out.
I love that Bats basically kicks the shit out of Supes thanks to gadgety Kryptonite to weaken the man of steel enough so that armored bat boot actually breaks something when it connects with the Kryptonian rib cage. I loved that Bats automatically reverts back from Superman MUST be stopped mode and into Save Martha Mode because underneath all that patchy grey costume material, he knows what it’s like to be an orphan. I freaking loved the fight scene when the Bat goes and saves ol’ Martha Kent from the baddies.
I just loved the movie. And I didn’t think that I would at the start. Yes, it’s a HUUUUUUGE film. And yes, I think it would have been wiser to do a World’s Finest film as the means to form the Justice League. 2016 is the year all the superheroes are at war with each other and the DC Filmverse needs to be very careful here because they can’t clone what’s happening in the Marvel-verse. (Yes there have been some Marvel stinkers). I think this film was doomed f0r reviewers from the moment that Ben Affleck’s name became attached to the project. I am no fan of the guy, but I liked his Batman. And there have been other worse Batmen, haven’t there?
This is a bubble gum movie. It’s designed to make a pile of money, sell a bunch of geek crap and make the kid in middle aged farts like me squeal with glee. It’s chock-full of BIG SPECIAL EFFECTS and HUGE SUPERHERO ACTION. Don’t go for a beautiful story line. You won’t find one. There can never be one in a film of this scale and I suspect we will be hearing the same kinds of things when Captain America Civil War hits theaters. I’ll go see that one too and let my inner child out just for two hours of mindless super hero action.
Have we reached peak superhero at the box office? Beats me and I don’t care.
PS … I own a DVD of Affleck’s Daredevil. It too is beautiful in its terribleness.
The picture you see on the left is about twenty years old. It features a younger, thinner version of me and my then 5 or 6 year old son. The picture on the right was just last spring – I was having a beer with my son at the Great Canadian Brew House.
I remember stepping into the photo booth at the old Penhorn Mall in Dartmouth Nova Scotia where I lived at the time, though I honestly can’t recall where on earth I got that ugly shirt from. I imagine we’d just come out of the cinema because Shane and I saw a ton of movies when he was little. I would have been about 27 at the time – I’m 48 now.
It’s been a long road for my kid. He’s experienced a lot of upheaval in his life as I tried to sort my own life out. He’s been living out here in Saskatoon now since he finished high school and up until yesterday, he worked at my company as a sheet metal apprentice.
On Saturday his life is about the change forever. He’s joined up to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces and his basic training starts next Monday. Three months of drill, inspections, physical training, more drill, more inspections, weapons handling and of course marching. Lots and lots and lots of marching.
He’s 25 now – he’s been through a rough couple of years as he struggled to find his place in the world. He is well liked at my company. He does very good work on everything from installing gas lines to heat runs for furnaces. (He installed the gas lines in my own house to our kitchen range and my beautiful, amazing, fabulous Weber barbecue outside on the deck) He’s a hard worker. Resourceful. He’s respectful and he has a good heart. He’s an excellent catch for the right girl once all the smoke clears from basic training and getting himself settled at his unit.
We talked early in 2015 about his joining up. As a veteran, I told him the facts as I saw them: the military isn’t for everybody but the best people I ever knew, I served with. I suggested that after surviving basic training, he would be more confident, more independent – he would become a changed man. And of course a regular paycheque, free health care and a regimented life has its benefits because you are part of something bigger than yourself. Serving in the military changed my life when I joined up at age 17. It gave me the confidence achieve whatever I set my mind to. I think it will do the same for my son as well.
His flight to boot camp leaves in 48 hours. I’ll be driving him to the airport with all the best wishes a father can offer and the confidence that comes from knowing he’s going to succeed because he’s got a good head on his shoulders and a strong work ethic. I’m proud of him for joining up because a lot of people his age are adrift in life and their work. I’ve seen it first-hand. I think this will give him a clear direction and a hell of an opportunity to shine. Once basic training is over, he’ll be spending the better part of 2016 at CFB Gagetown learning Heating, Air Conditioning which is better than me when I joined up: all I was qualified for was the infantry.
So go kick ass, Shane. I know you’re going to do your old man proud. They might even have sriracha sauce at the mess hall. Onward.
This is an important campaign. It’s all over social media, and rightly so – it makes sense that books should reflect our cultural mosaic.
Mea Culpa time: I’m a 48 year old white guy that most people haven’t heard of and who, amazingly, has been published seven times. I’m a bit right of center in my values (understand, a Canadian conservative would be an American Liberal, BTW) but I’ve always considered myself a pretty tolerant person. It likely comes from having grown up in a country that traditionally votes Liberal, sticks to the mushy middle and basically tries to get along with everyone. Seriously, Canada is like the next door neighbor that everybody borrows gardening tools from but fails to return them and we’re too polite to ask for our property back. Apparently, the NY Times thinks we’re “hip” all of a sudden. Naturally, Canadians mocked this … politely, of course. Apparently, Planet Earth wants to have sex with our new Prime Minister. Good for him, I guess.
At any rate, multiculturalism is an official policy in Canada, but we’re still a very white with two official languages – English and French. Where I live in Saskatoon, we’re pretty darned white. We have a large First Nations population. (until very recently their federal government ministry was called “Indian Affairs”. Now it’s called Indigenous & Northern Affairs.) My own experience is lilly white. I was born in Ontario and spent my childhood in a very tough neighborhood of predominately working poor white families in Sudbury. We moved out to Calgary Alberta in 1980 and my experience there was mostly a white one. Yes, there was a large east Indian community but we didn’t mix in Junior High or High School that I can recall.
So when I started writing to get published, the mere thought my characters being anything but white hadn’t occurred to me. I didn’t expand that cultural mosaic into my writing because it didn’t reflect the reality of my life so everybody was a WASP. Or a WASC. I thought I was being progressive by including Ukrainian names for characters in my books because there’s a heck of a lot of Ukrainians in Western Canada. I didn’t write non-diverse on purpose, mind you. But over the past three or so years, I’ve come to recognize that books should reflect everyone in the community because the community is everyone. Know what I mean? It’s not just white people like me.
In my novel STUDENT BODIES, I decided to throw caution to the wind and write a diverse character. Twyla Standingready is a First Nations mage-in-training. She kicks ass all over the book. People loved her and I even got emails from readers who thought it would be cool for her to have her own book. Her grandfather was in there too, again, kicking ass using native magic – which of course I made up entirely in my world building process and to this day, I wonder if I had a right to do that. I wasn’t trying to make a statement by putting in a diverse character. I was just trying to make the story more reflective of the world I live in. This isn’t without risk because I wonder if I am going to upset anybody by writing a diverse character and not getting something right about their culture. Seriously … I’ve lost sleep over this. I don’t know what the rules are. I don’t know if I have a right to write diversity because I am a fat old white guy.
I purposely included diversity in my bleak post apocalyptic YA novel, THE NORTH. Again, a First Nations character.
But I have felt a need to write a novel with a non-white protagonist. Not because I am trying to correct historical maltreatment of ethnic groups but because I thought it would be cool.
Yes. There you have it. That’s my motivation in writing diversity now. Coolness followed by a healthy dose of “why the hell not?”
In 2015, I wrote a novel called #GRUDGEGIRL. My protagonist is named Jia Song – she’s Chinese. She sees the ghosts of murdered women and children. She hunts their killers. She’s off the grid. She’s massively bad ass. My agent has it and is about to shop it. I hope a publisher buys it but there’s this niggling fear that I didn’t get something right. That I might piss somebody off because I didn’t do enough research into her culture.
Writing is never without risk. It’s a great story and I hope it finds a home.
And I guess I’m kind of glad about We Need Diverse Books, because it grabbed this author’s attention. My motivation is still “this would be a cool idea” but now I’m looking at it through a multicultural lens and that’s progress. Writing books is a massive undertaking. Writing books that reflect my community is now on my radar and before it wasn’t. The funny thing? Because I’ve added diversity, I’ve got more angles to explore in my characters. More texture as I try to write their backstory.
Diversity might even be making me a better writer.
Not bad for a 48 year old white guy who needs to drop about fifty pounds.