REVIEW: A Kiss for the Mirrorman by Adrian Cole

Wednesday , 5, April 2017 8 Comments

Okay, this one’s just plain nuts. Is it a superhero tale? A dystopian cyberpunk adventure? A Philip Marlowe style noir-detective story…? Yes… it’s all three at once. And it’s absolutely crazy.

Does it work? You know, you could argue that it all comes down to personal preference, but I think even as offbeat as this is it could stand to be a notch more coherent. It’s tough for me to say that given that I’m a bit of a champion of the kitchen sink approach to fantasy world-building, but I really do expect a little more verve than this. Just as one example, the noir vibe clashes with the cyberpunk premise occasionally. We are walked through nearly all of the traditional gumshoe story beats with a lead that overcomes his problems with psionic abilities. It just doesn’t jive.

Part of what makes noir work is the plainness and simplicity of the protagonist. He really has to hustle to accomplish anything and he gets the snot beat out of him all the time. It’s an underdog thing. But with psi as the answer to nearly every situation, it’s hard to get invested. That’s one of the things that makes this story feel like it’s fueled by video games rather than classic pulp fiction. The superpowers are just so easy. They just work. They feel like there’s little more to them than a stat in a tabletop rpg. In the older stories, psi tends to be a little more weird. Often it’s hard to use. Sometimes it’s saved back for a deus ex machina. But you definitely get a whole lot more than the chrome of “he psi-ed the psi with his psi.”

I have to say, though… if there were standalone stories like this on spinner racks in gas stations, comics wouldn’t be in near the sorry state that they are today. This absolutely is the sort of thing people look for in anthologies and magazines but completely fail to find. And I know from the comments on my reviews that there are things that bug me that the rank and file moviegoer could not be bothered to care about.

And I wouldn’t feel the need to call this next thing out so much if superhero television were not so painfully, mind-numbingly consistent on this point. But there are elements of this story that fall dutifully in line with last year’s zeitgeist when it really doesn’t have to.

Take the introduction of the most significant female character:

My immediate boss, Magritte, was in the alley mouth, holding up a hand to signify she was coming in, a soft target if I wanted to take advantage. I’d have liked to, but my curiosity got the better of me.
She stood close to me and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. I never understood how anyone could use those things, dragging smoke–smoke for Christ’s sake– into their lungs. Mostly they were a product of an age long gone, but Magritte seemed addicted. Maybe they were just her trademark. I waited while she inhaled and blew out a cloud of white smoke.
“What the [heck] is going on?” I said, now in full view.
“You’ve made a mess of four Psiclones. Good models, too.” Her voice was almost a growl, probably something to do with the muck she inhaled. Her skin was pasty, no make-up, her face drawn, short hair clipped close to her skull. She looked like a woman who hadn’t known a good night’s sleep for a long time. She was less than forty, but her job had aged her beyond that.

Now, people will buy the heck out of this sort of thing. It’s as absolutely the norm today and nobody really cares. This is exactly the same archetype that  Karrin Murphy fills in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. It’s in the same ballpark as the sort of high powered, hard hitting “tough guy” women that clog up shows like Iron Fist or Jessica Jones. Granted, Magritte is not outright noxious in the way that the big time lawyer played by Carrie-Anne Moss is, but she is creeping towards that general ballpark.

It’s the fact that guys like Butcher and Cole invoke the noir ethos that does them in for me. They recapitulate so much of it… and then they simply go limp. It’s like the barrier in the minds of the Bene Gesserit that prevents them from looking into entire swaths of human nature and the human condition. They are old school… but the whole idea of “regress harder” eludes them.

A pulp-style story that refuses to introduce beautiful, feminine, tantalizing, sultry women…? That instead, takes women and forces them to conform to a bossy, butched-up, jumped-up, hyper-competent archetype that is more of a political statement than anything out of literature or myth…? That’s lame. And it’s markedly inferior to the classic works of the pulp era. Now… I am inclined to cut authors some slack on this sort of thing given that the old way of doing things is both unimaginable to most people and inordinately risqué to boot. But that is the problem. That’s exactly why this sort of thing matters.



  • john silence says:

    Might be that I am not to invested in romantic or erotic aspects of these stories, but I really can’t see this as some sort of huge minus. Some women just aren’t born attractive. So she’s unattractive but, i take it, intelligent and capable. And that’s alright. If this was a story written by a SJW, you certainly wouldn’t have narrator pointing out how unappealing her looks are, even though it’s natural for a male to think that in this context.

    • Jeffro says:

      Did you even read the story?

      Look, the protagonist has to kiss this girl at the climax. If you want romantic tension + some kind of emotional payoff, then the girl has to be attractive if not outright beautiful.

      This is common sense. What Cole did here is the literary equivalent of casting someone with Wil Wheaton’s physique in an action hero type lead role. Dumb!

  • deuce says:

    Mr. Cole has been around forever — ie, since the ’70s. He’s a fan of Burroughs and Merritt. In his first big series, THE DREAM LORDS, psi powers were a major part of the plot.

    I don’t think this story was inspired by video ganes, but it sounds like it may’ve been subpar for Cole.

  • john silence says:

    No, my comment was based on your text. If there’s a romance going on between them later on, I can see where your issue is.

    • Jeffro says:

      Do yourself a favor and go watch The Big Sleep… which features William Faulkner and Leigh Brackett’s script work. Then read this story. THEN decide what you think about this. That’d be way more fun!

  • Frisky says:

    The bossy, hypercompetent woman is a cliché, but Carmen Sternwood (from the novel The Big Sleep) is not a romance option either. She is a creepy, manipulative, promiscuous, insane (morally but also mentally since she has seizures,) spoiled rich girl, probably a drug addict too, that tries to murder Marlowe in cold blood.

    Writing a character like her would certainly make any story way better and more true to the noir archetype, where half of the women seem to be psychopathic, man-eating lamias, but it wouldn’t be uplifting romance.

    • Jeffro says:

      Hey, it’s just some guy that hasn’t read the story that’s talking about romance here.

      What I was talking about was “beautiful, feminine, tantalizing, sultry” women. This story does not have them. That deficiency is in direct conflict with the noir undertones.

    • Jack Amok says:

      Carmen’s looks are the key to her role in the story. It’s only because she’s beautiful that she’s able to cause the problems she does. If she was ugly, no one would put up with her vices or try to take advantage of them. Because she’s pretty and rich, she’s indulged and taken advantage of.

      The whole noir genre is based on people dealing with temptation and greed and the tragedy that comes from giving into them. So there are two types of dames in noir, good girls and Trouble. Trouble goes out of her way to be tempting and the hero’s success or failure often hinges on whether he resists or not. If the story just had a bunch of Good Girls in it, nothing would move the plot forward.

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