Matchless, the stars took fire

When I was a kid, on the Sunday before a Monday holiday, my dad would wake us kids up just before midnight. He’d settle us on the couch with popcorn and pizza rolls. And then we’d all watch one of the old movie adventure serials on the local UHF channel that they would play at midnight. I remember Superman and the Mole Men (with a sneak preview of the “new” Superman movie). But most of all, I remember Flash Gordon.

I love Flash Gordon. Even the terrible 1980s movie (which came out when I was too young to appreciate the camp, so all I saw was high adventure). I have an edition of the original newspaper serials printed in full newspaper size–too big to fit on any shelf and big enough to really show off Alex Raymond’s gorgeous art. I know that any self-respecting reader would criticize the colonialism, the racism, and the sexism that thread through the story and can tear the story to shreds.

I don’t care.

To me, Flash Gordon will always stand for the facing the unknown with courage, prowess, loyalty, and the willingness to find allies and even friends in people who seem to be your enemies. It will also remind me of family, warmth, and comfort.

But if you want to read the same sort of concept re-done with a deep awareness of the massive social changes between then and now, I highly recommend Max Gladstone’s The Empress of Forever. It is one of the best over-the-top science fiction adventures I’ve read in years. Imagine Flash Gordon as an Asian, lesbian Elon Musk-like entrepreneur who recruits the Guardians of the Galaxy to stop an evil empress who threatens to crush all life on earth in the service of preventing what she believes to be a greater evil.

And if that doesn’t grab you, it has outrageously well-written descriptions like:

So, matchless, the stars took fire: a galaxy more like a disc than a hoarfrost road. Those brilliant golden and rainbow rings gave depth and dimension to the warm, full black.

And a main character, Viv, who makes internal asides about agile sprints and figures out how to lead her team of misfits in terms of real-world management advice:

She didn’t know this place, but she knew how to manage a team. You could not keep your colleagues in the dark and expect them to help to the best of their ability. Especially when you lacked relevant technical expertise.

And tells the story of her growth and transformation through emotionally-evocative phrases like:

She’d once seen a huge ice shelf calve from a glacier, then turn over in the water, at first a slight slope in the glacier’s plane, then steeper, steeper, then with a rush of frozen spray that made rainbows in the knife-dry air, with a surge of mighty shoulders, the complications underwater revealed themselves, and what had been visible faded below the waves. This felt like that.

In the end, it is a story about friendship, the self, and our relationship to the world that very deliberately echoes a lot of the Zen Buddhist sentiments I’ve shared in other posts. But throughout, it’s a rousing space adventure with a new surprise, a new twist, and a spectacular new image around every corner.

Published by William Gerke

William Gerke is a Boston-based talent professional, author, and human being.

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