Sunday, June 25, 2006

in honor of the new Superman flick

Before he went insane and stopped writing coherent prose, Larry Niven was a kick-ass science fiction writer in his heyday-- the 1960s and 70s. His first two Ringworld novels are fantastic epics, and his stories based in Known Space, especially the ones involving that Han Solo prototype, the lanky albino Beowulf Schaeffer, are the consummate SF thrill ride (get yourself a copy of Niven's short story collection Neutron Star; you won't regret it).

Niven also put together a compendium of short fiction under the title All the Myriad Ways. Overall, the book is good; the stories are hit-or-miss, but one story in particular is appropriate to bring up as we face the return of Superman in Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns": Niven's "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex."

This story, which you can read in ten minutes or less, is probably the product of alcohol, but it's also the funniest thing I've ever seen from Niven's keyboard. Niven speculates on the onerous biological realities inherent in being a kryptonian on Terra, a planet populated by impossibly delicate beings. How the hell do you mate with a Terran woman?

Niven discusses the implications of such a union in startlingly gory detail; he speculates realistically on what sex between Clark and Lois would actually be like (his description of the moment of orgasm is both hilarious and horrifying), and covers various pregnancy scenarios.

I have such fond memories of this short story that I had to wonder whether some enterprising scribe had decided to put it online.

Lo and behold.

I hope you enjoy the piece as much as I did (and do, despite one, er, politically incorrect reference to sodomy that might raise the ire of both gay rights activists and women who like it up the ass).

While we're at it, I should note that one other writer very recently penned a fantastic commentary on Superman: Quentin Tarantino. The text is part of the script for "Kill Bill: Volume 2," and is delivered as a speech by a slightly unhinged David Carradine. The text of that speech follows:

An essential characteristic of the superhero mythology is: there's the superhero, and there's the alter ego. Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When he wakes up in the morning, he's Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic that Superman stands alone. Superman did not become Superman, Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he's Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red "S," that's the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears-- the glasses, the business suit-- that's the costume. That's the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He's weak, he's unsure of himself... he's a coward. Clark Kent is Superman's critique on the whole human race.

Gotta love ol' Quentin.




  1. I've read lots of Niven but didn't know that he had gone bonkers.

  2. I hope this isn't posted twice- the comment-box reappeared after clicking 'Publish' so I thought I had mistyped the verificaiton letters.

    Could you expand on the "...went insane and stopped writing coherent prose..." remark?
    I can't say his writing has improved during my span of reading it but that is probably because I read early and later works in no order so I can't see changes in the style. Ringworlds Children was a little hard to follow but mostly in a sequel kind of way- a lot of info from previous books was required.

    If you're interested, his book, Fallen Angels, about a religiously-motivated, technophobic Earth with a slowly starving space station working to find a way to get resources form Earth, can be found at the Baen free Library online.

    The Superman story is pretty funny.

  3. re: Niven's "insanity"

    That was meant to be a joke. A lot of people have complained that Niven's writing deteriorated after the 70s, and I'd agree.

    Two good examples come to mind: (1) some of the short stories in his collection Limits, and (2) his third Ringworld book, The Ringworld Throne, which I started perusing at a bookstore and had to put down for its unreadability.

    I haven't been motivated to buy a Niven book in years.




All comments are subject to approval before they are published, so they will not appear immediately. Comments should be civil, relevant, and substantive. Anonymous comments are not allowed and will be unceremoniously deleted. For more on my comments policy, please see this entry on my other blog.

AND A NEW RULE (per this post): comments critical of Trump's lying must include criticism of Biden's lying on a one-for-one basis! Failure to be balanced means your comment will not be published.