It’s positively baffling how hard it’s become for anyone to make a straight ahead adventure story these days. First classic Westerns like Rio Bravo and El Dorado evaporated and the old school leading man with them. An echo of that sort of thing lived on with Luke Skywalker, Alex Rogan (The Last Starfighter), and Billy Peltzer (Gremlins), but it was never really the same. And before long even that seemed to be too much to ask for.
It got worse, though. At some point we lost the traditional “heavy” as well. Rather than establishing him as someone worthy of a comeuppance at the hands of a hero figure, he instead became a figure worthy of sympathy: someone that was merely mistreated as a child or somesuch. The yin and yang at the heart of millenia of storytelling was twisted even as it was muted.
Then came the strong female characters that seemed to follow an entirely different story arc altogether. Extended casts had to be reworked to accommodate a dozen ethnicities and “lifestyle” choices. Each of these changes seemed maybe reasonable on their own, but after a while… it was as if a new type of storytelling had emerged in which conformity to the narrative trumped the depiction of human beings with human motivations. In a world where heroism and romance were already unimaginable, this was just too much. There was nothing else to do except start over.
What’s the alternative look like…? It looks like this novella from Jon Mollison. It’s got likable characters that read as if they are actual human beings. It’s got protagonists that could maybe stand to see things a little differently and antagonists that maybe have a point. It’s got unvarnished heroism, believable emotional beats, and the exact epic showdown that is promised on the cover.
Most importantly, it is a story that can be enjoyed by fathers and their daughters. And as I write that line, I have to say I am both shocked and angered by how little there is to fill that niche. Nobody, at any rate, consulted with us for what we might have wanted that way in the most recent Star Wars film. I think all of that’s changing now, though. And not a moment too soon.
If you want a preview of what’s coming, short fiction like this is the thing to watch. It really is where the action is.