Review: Becoming Superman by J. Michael Straczynski

Review: Becoming Superman by J. Michael StraczynskiBecoming Superman: My Journey from Poverty to Hollywood by J. Michael Straczynski
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: autobiography, biography, science fiction
Pages: 460
Published by Harper Voyager on July 23, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

With an introduction by Neil Gaiman!

In this dazzling memoir, the acclaimed writer behind Babylon 5, Sense8, Clint Eastwood's Changeling and Marvel's Thor reveals how the power of creativity and imagination enabled him to overcome the horrors of his youth and a dysfunctional family haunted by madness, murder and a terrible secret.

For four decades, J. Michael Straczynski has been one of the most successful writers in Hollywood, one of the few to forge multiple careers in movies, television and comics. Yet there's one story he's never told before: his own.

Joe's early life nearly defies belief. Raised by damaged adults--a con-man grandfather and a manipulative grandmother, a violent, drunken father and a mother who was repeatedly institutionalized--Joe grew up in abject poverty, living in slums and projects when not on the road, crisscrossing the country in his father's desperate attempts to escape the consequences of his past.

To survive his abusive environment Joe found refuge in his beloved comics and his dreams, immersing himself in imaginary worlds populated by superheroes whose amazing powers allowed them to overcome any adversity. The deeper he read, the more he came to realize that he, too, had a superpower: the ability to tell stories and make everything come out the way he wanted it. But even as he found success, he could not escape a dark and shocking secret that hung over his family's past, a violent truth that he uncovered over the course of decades involving mass murder.

Straczynski's personal history has always been shrouded in mystery. Becoming Superman lays bare the facts of his life: a story of creation and darkness, hope and success, a larger-than-life villain and a little boy who became the hero of his own life. It is also a compelling behind-the-scenes look at some of the most successful TV series and movies recognized around the world.

My Review:

I jumped at the chance to read this book and be on this tour because, well, basically because Babylon 5. Which I’ve watched more than once, and have frequently cited in regards to its treatment of chaos vs. order in the Shadow War. Because that dichotomy rears its head, over and over, in SF, in Fantasy, in life.

It’s what makes Loki such a fascinating character, because he represents chaos. While the MCU may equate chaos with evil, it ain’t necessarily so. There’s a reason why seemingly every mythology has a chaos avatar – because chaos and the response to it pushes us forward.

It’s what makes Ben Franklin’s quote about sacrificing freedom to obtain security so powerful, as freedom is generally a bit chaotic, while security generally aligns with order. But too much of either, no matter how well intentioned, is always a bad thing.

The surprising thing about this autobiography is just how much chaos swirled around the author’s early life. And that his adult response seems to have been, not to fight against the chaos, but to embrace it. To grow stronger from the fight – no matter how much it hurt.

And it’s a fascinating journey from beginning to end – even if – or especially because – it (and the author) took a very long walk through some very dark places.

Reality Rating A+: I opened this book, fell completely into it, and didn’t emerge until I turned the last page. Sort of like the first time I watched Babylon 5, somewhere in Season 3, and got so deeply entranced – or entrenched – that I went back to the beginning to catch up then waited with the proverbial bated breath for each episode thereafter.

One of the fascinating things about the author’s life is the way that he knows and addresses the fact that he might not be the most reliable narrator of the early parts of it. Not because of lies or embellishments – or at least not because of his own lies or embellishments. Rather because the people whose memories he is forced to rely on for the parts that take place before his birth or during his early childhood were themselves far from reliable. His family’s story is a story of lies and coverups hiding multiple essential and nasty truths.

All families have secrets. All families centered around any kind of abuse have particular kinds of secrets designed to protect the abuser from the consequences of their actions. All of that is in this life story.

But the dark heart hidden underneath all of that is even more rotten than most people have to deal with in one lifetime. And it left the kind of damage that makes all too many people not merely dysfunctional, but sets them up for a lifetime of perpetuating their abuse.

What makes this story so special? For one, the book is compulsively readable. I started and absolutely couldn’t put it down until about 2:30 in the morning – and not just because I wanted to get to the good parts. I felt so compelled because the man is a consummate storyteller, no matter how painful the story is. I was hooked and I stayed that way for 5 hours of reading, just as I stayed that way for 5 years of B5.

The story begins as a shitshow of epic proportions, travels inexorably from endless defeats to seeming victories to yet more defeats, only to rise and fall again and again, until the end is, not so much a triumph as a paean of gratitude for all the chances that came, and for all of the million-to-one shots that surprisingly and delightfully paid off.

And it’s an absolutely marvelous read every step of the way. Even the hard parts. Especially the hard parts. Because the author spares no one, particularly not himself.

My one and only regret about this book is that I didn’t have time to listen to the audio, which is read by the actor who played the clown-turned-emperor Londo Mollari on Babylon 5. The only way that could have been better would be if G’Kar were still with us to participate. And now, I think it’s time for a rewatch.

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Mako’s Bounty

Mako’s Bounty by Diane Dooley is part of Decadent Publishing’s 1 Night Stand series. And that description just about encapsulates the book. The story is about a one-night stand, and it is a decadently delicious little treat of a science fiction romance.

Mako is Makiko Dolan, and she is an intergalactic bounty hunter. With a name like Makiko, and a profession like hers, winding up being nicknamed for the earth-bound shark seems only natural. Especially since Makiko, like the shark she is named for, always puts the bite on her prey.

Her prey in this story is a man named Vin Sainte, who naturally has a nickname of his own: “the Saint,” of course. The Saint is on the run from Ravenscorp, the evil mercantile empire that controls the galaxy, or at least the human-inhabited corner of it.

Mako has been chasing the Saint for months, because she needs the major bounty he’ll bring in. Ravenscorp has been keeping Mako’s mother imprisoned in indentured servitude, and Mako desperately needs a big payday to get her out.

So Mako chases the Saint to Earth. Literally to Earth, as in the planet Earth. She’s arranged a meeting. Not just an ordinary meeting, but a one-night stand arranged through Madame Eve’s exclusive dating agency. Mako’s plan is to sex him up and then handcuff him while he’s still “recovering”.

Mako doesn’t count on the sensory overload she gets from being on Earth for the first time. She’s used to the deprivations of a backwater colony–and the empty vastness of space. Earth is almost an LSD trip.

But Mako’s big surprise is the Saint himself. She’s been studying his picture for months. But in person, he’s, well, she has to admit to herself that he’s the best looking man she’s seen in a long time. The Saint is a major part of that sensory overload.

And even bigger surprise is that he knows exactly who Mako is, and why she’s there. The Saint knows it’s a honey trap. He’s there to bring the little shark over to his own cause.

Until Vin Sainte met Mako, he thought his mission was just to convert the bounty hunter from Ravenscorp’s side to his.

When he finds her naked in his hotel room, he realizes that he needs to convert her to his cause, heart, body and soul.

Escape Rating C+: This story is cute and fun. It’s a very quick and enjoyable dip into the science fiction romance pool.

However, because the story is very short (about 40 pages) there isn’t time to do a lot of worldbuilding, so the science fiction part rides on some assumptions. The beginning has a very good SF feel at the space station, and I loved that one ship was named Gagarin.

But…adjusting to Earth’s gravity wouldn’t be that easy for a lifetime spacer, or I don’t think so.  The mental adjustment, perhaps, but the physical, not so much.

The bigger question for me was Vin Sainte’s religious beliefs. He is a devout practitioner of a religious faith that isn’t named but seems awfully familiar. He certainly prays a lot, and at surprising moments. In a story of this length, inventing a religion would have taken up a lot of worldbuilding time. That being said, assuming that current religions would survive into space relatively unchanged seemed a stretch.

Of course, there’s that scene from the end of the Babylon 5 episode The Parliament of Dreams, where representatives from ALL the Earth’s religions come to the station in 2258. It could happen.