Adventure Tales

I woke up this morning dreaming of Tin-Tin. In full technicolor, for some reason. No, not live-action, just as he was drawn, only moving. As I sat up, I realized something. Well, two things. No… you ever have one of those mornings where your brain comes online and you have a flood of thoughts like they were just waiting impatiently for you to be awake again so you could think them? I’d like to think it’s not just me.

The first coherent thought was that I keep saying I never read comic books as a kid, and I was wrong. Tin-tin, Asterix and Obelix, those were comic books, they just weren’t superheroes and presented like American comics were, and they weren’t always in English. Secondly, the book I recently bought which made my First Reader lift a brow and wonder why I wanted it was likely me being very nostalgic. Thirdly, I needed to sit and write this post. Fourthly, I wonder if you can buy Tin-tin books and will they hold up to my memories of them?

Reading, and I suspect particularly early reading, shapes your writing. As I’ve talked more with other writers, I realize how much also early TV and movie viewing shapes us. On a panel with Edward McKeown and Larry Correia, I was talking about reading Hammett, Spillane, and Chandler, and they were referring to great noir movies – which had me flipping over my name card and jotting furious notes about what they’d liked, since I suspect I’ll like them too. A little later, chatting with fellow author James Young and other friends, I mentioned I wanted to write a mecha story, and what would they recommend to ground me in the genre? Again, a flurry of recommendations – only most of them, I think, are anime and cartoons from childhood. Which brings me back to Tin-tin.

I (mostly) didn’t read comic books as they were short, and didn’t contain a satisfying-to-me story. I never liked the vignette style of telling a story, and I still don’t. At the end of the book, I want an ending. Even if you know that Tin-tin and Snow are going to have other rollicking adventures, for the nonce they are safely at home (or at least safe) and the mystery has been resolved. I’m quite ordinary in that respect. Resolution, conclusion, some kind of happy ending. That’s what I as a reader like in my comic book, and in my other reading too, for the most part.

However, there’s another aspect of my early reading I imprinted on, and seem to still have to this day. It’s likely why, once I’d found the Baen Free Library, I read voraciously through it, and started to buy their books as I could afford them. And it’s certainly why I write. I like Adventure Stories. Tarzan of the Jungle, John Carter of Mars, my Dad’s Clive Cussler books, and a little later, his Tom Clancy’s. John Ringo’s Hymn Before Battle, Drake’s Belisaurius tales, Freer’s Dragon Ring, more than I can think of in my pre-caffeinated state. So it’s no surprise that as we were standing there in front of the dimly-lit shelves at the flea market, surrounded by incredible junk (it’s why I love walking through there so much. You never know what you’ll find) one cover caught my eye and made me pull it off the shelf, then refuse to put it back on. It was the title, see. It promised me adventure tales, and I’m a sucker for those – especially those written a century or more ago, when we writers weren’t so jaded, and not all of the world had been mapped and peered down on by the restless eyes of satellites. I wanted to explore the unknown and the unknowable with the characters of my stories, to brave the frontiers and our lives breaking trails no man had trod before.

“What did I want?

I wanted a Roc’s egg. I wanted a harem loaded with lovely odalisques less than the dust beneath my chariot wheels, the rust that never stained my sword,. I wanted raw red gold in nuggets the size of your fist and feed that lousy claim jumper to the huskies! I wanted to get u feeling brisk and go out and break some lances, then pick a like wench for my droit du seigneur–I wanted to stand up to the Baron and dare him to touch my wench! I wanted to hear the purple water chuckling against the skin of the Nancy Lee in the cool of the morning watch and not another sound, nor any movement save the slow tilting of the wings of the albatross that had been pacing us the last thousand miles.

I wanted the hurtling moons of Barsoom. I wanted Storisende and Poictesme, and Holmes shaking me awake to tell me, “The game’s afoot!” I wanted to float down the Mississippi on a raft and elude a mob in company with the Duke of Bilgewater and the Lost Dauphin.

I wanted Prestor John, and Excalibur held by a moon-white arm out of a silent lake. I wanted to sail with Ulysses and with Tros of Samothrace and eat the lotus in a land that seemed always afternoon. I wanted the feeling of romance and the sense of wonder I had known as a kid. I wanted the world to be what they had promised me it was going to be–instead of the tawdry, lousy, fouled-up mess it is.”

― Robert A. Heinlein, Glory Road

So this is what I wanted to write. To capture that feeling I had as a girl, curled up somewhere in the sun, reading about the distant adventures that never were. I did, as a girl, strike out for gold and find it. I have ridden in a sled behind dogs. There’s a reason Robert Service’s work makes me cry, and Kipling resonates with me to my bones. I never had the other adventures, and I’m old and (hopefully) wise enough to know that adventuring is a miserable, boring, drudgesome thing which might end in your bones bleaching on a distant planet… But to have been there! To have gone for it! To have risked it all in the hopes of accomplishing something greater than oneself! This! This is why I write.

And this is why I pick up books that make the First Reader ask “Why are you buying that?”

“For research,” I answered, hugging it close. And then later, sitting with him and both of us reading, when I start chuckling and reading out loud the absurd bits, I think he appreciated why this book. Because it’s a window into another time, another place. Not necessarily one I’d like to go to, but certainly one that formed some of the stories I loved. And something I really can use for research – a contemporaneous, if subjective – account of wars and alarums around the world during a time when communications were slow and reinforcements were even slower. Because any book that was seriously title Startling Experiences, even one published 120 years ago, cannot be taken too seriously, and harks back to the days of pulp fiction and adventure tales and accounts from dark jungles full of mysterious peoples.

The book is full of odd spellings, and old photos. In an era before mass communication, this might be the only way to see pagodas and other scenes from abroad.
The book also boasts some well-drawn cartoons, most of which would have modern readers clutching their pearls and groping for their fainting couches. This one is mild, very mild, comparative to others. Also, those illustrated typefaces! Mmm


  1. I could present a fair argument that Asterix and Obelix were indeed super heroes. They take a potion that gives them superhuman strength, and that allows them to defeat the bad guys (more often than not the Romans)

      1. Mecha is a very silly genre, for three major groups of reasons.

        a) Bearing strength and ground pressure. There are some serious engineering challenges involved, and we can make some pretty shrewd guesses about physical impossibility. Then there are the questions of maintenance and utility as weapon systems.

        b) A lot of the real robot series, I particularly notice it in Gundam, have issues with their political and social worldbuilding. The explanations for why wars start and end often don’t ring very true to me. This may be translation issues, it may be that Japanese media creators don’t have the benefit of the broader historical perspective where WWII is concerned.

        c) Super Robot physics tends to explicitly or implicitly depend on the emotional state of characters. Effectiveness of the robot is often paced by emotional beats of the story. (I don’t quite have the words for it.) It is a genre convention for that part of the genre. It works once you realize that and accept it, but until then you will be asking ‘Why?’

          1. I think the mecha from Avatar are about the biggest you can realistically have without running into weight per square inch problems of the terrain. And even then I wouldn’t want to take one into a swamp. Pacific Rim-sized giant robots? Please. They’d sink 10 feet or more deep into normal soil, and Lord knows they’d destroy city streets as well as all the infrastructure buried under them.

              1. Just a tad. Though I could imagine Cordwainer Smith writing about million mile high mecha in space that were basically hollow.

                I’m really big into what I hashtag on my site as #RealRobo.

                By big I mean obsessed. On a scale of one to ten of crazy, around eleven.

  2. Kipling’s stories and poems, then the Coloured Fairy Books, and mythology, followed by The Illiad, Vikings, and other rollicking history and adventure. Indiana Jones? Heh, read about Hiram Bingham dang near sliding off the mountain (he caught himself with one arm, dislocated his shoulder but hung on) before he found Machu Pichu and brought the Inca back to historical life. Or the tales of the Great Game, and of the archaeologists in western China in the late 1800s.

  3. Hmm, stuff for a grounding in mecha.

    First, you need to watch at least one Gundam series. These are mostly part of the genre Super Robot Wars refers to as Real Robots. The GundamInfo channel on youtube, which I think may be official, has several series up. Try W/Wing or 00. Unicorn may depend too much on knowledge of the UC continuity. I like Iron Blooded Orphans, but it may be too dark. I like the Build series, but it is almost outside the genre, and won’t be a proper foundation. Haven’t watched Seed yet, but Seed and especially Seed Destiny are not well regarded critically.

    Sunrise produces quite a lot of nice mecha series.

    Another area of the genre critical to cover is what are called Super Robots. Getter Robo and Mazinger being really famous and popular ones. Gao-Gai-gar, Go-Lion/lion Voltron, etc…

    Considering that there are at least forty or fifty years of mecha anime production, and assuming you weren’t talking to anyone younger than twenty, ‘anime or cartoons from my childhood’ won’t serve you very badly. Skipping the deconstructions and adult only series won’t serve you too badly as far as building a foundation. If you are writing in English, your audience is mostly not going to have only seen the very most recent of the mecha series intended for very young children. Stuff that came out between five years ago and the 1980’s is probably your best bet for being able to get a hold of it without going deep into the weeds.

      1. Then perhaps Pacific Rim (the first one hits the beats fairly well), one of the Gundam movies, and maybe the first three to six episodes of GaoGaiGar? I can’t make recommendations about Gundam movies, and I don’t know the mecha OAVs very well.

        Pacific Rim delivers a lot of the standard Super Robot beats, even if it is clearly influenced by Lovecraft, and by Evangelion, one of the more famous and notorious deconstructions in the mecha genre. (It is also a giant monster show, which is pretty common for super robots.)

        A lot of the 26/52 episode super robot shows have a genre specific structured series story in addition to the genre specific structured episode story. Watching the first episodes will give you a feel for the episodic beats after you get past the introduction.

        I have a weaker grasp of the series formula for real robot shows. I’m not sure it is as consistent as the super robot ones seem to be. If you are only watching the first episodes, try the first season of Aldnoah Zero. I missed the first episode, but the four or five episodes beyond that should be a fairly consistent guide to a story structure. (Though the center of gravity of real robots runs to much softer sci fi than early first season Aldnoah Zero.)

        Asking for a foundation in mecha is almost like asking for a foundation in magical girl or in Shonen Jump series. Childhood favorites might work pretty well, but comprehensive can get extensive pretty fast. Not quite as bad as asking for a foundation in Romance or in Mystery. I don’t think my knowledge of any of these is fully comprehensive.

      2. Somehow I’ve never watched a Gundam. But, for some Mecha stories that DH and I have actually really enjoyed, my top two are probably Full Metal Panic (as much MilSF as Mecha, but tight storytelling and an interesting world IMO) and Gurenn Lagann (ridiculous, but in a good way). You might also look at Godanner (fun, and our protags are a married couple) or Cross Ange (which is more than a little dark, ymmv). For American… Can you track down some 90s-era Transformers? I loved it as a kid, and then they let Michael Bay make the movies…..

        1. I’ll second the Full Metal Panic recommendation. The manga the anime is based upon was a mix of several genres, combining MilSF, Japanese School Life, and Mecha in a set of tales that were sometimes quite humorous and sometimes quite deadly serious. The first anime series they produced (simply “Full Metal Panic”) cut out much of the humorous elements. The second series they produced (“Full Metal Panic Fumoffo”) is nothing but the humorous stuff, and the MilSF elements are mostly minimized. The subsequent anime series have mostly been serious with some minor comedic elements. I’ve enjoyed all of them a lot, and am currently making my way through the latest installment.

          1. I guess the author of the light novel has kept a pretty firm grasp on his property, and been involved with manga, anime, and video game production. Which I think is pretty cool.

      3. I liked Mazinger Z, and Voltron, but Macross was my favorite (or Robotech, since that’s what I actually watched…) and Appleseed, (does Ghost in the Shell count? Or Bubblegum Crisis?)

        I did rather like the scenes in the later Matrix movies where they had those machine-suits. Someone in the Philippines cosplayed one of those and it was bloody amazing.

        1. I’ve seen a cosplay of one that involved a baby in one of those chest carriers…

    1. Gurenn Lagann is super robot, and a famous critically regard deconstruction, that apparently has an obvious Getter Robo influence. Haven’t seen it.

      FMP has a fond place in my heart. The Light Novel, not the manga was the original property. I used to be a major fan, but had developed wrong expectations of the ending. (I really wanted the black technology to result in a hot no losses American victory to the cold war. But the author apparently didn’t think that would sell to the Japanese, maybe didn’t even want to write it, and really wanted to write an ending to the highschool romance plotline.)

      Macross and Robotech both have fans. Macross is another of the major mecha properties. (The Macross fans tend to really hate Robotech.) Travis Taylor has written some books inspired by his love of Robotech.

      Bubblegum definitely counts, probably GITS, maybe Appleseed. But as a sole source, the Cyberpunk elements may throw off the sense of the mecha genre. Of course, the same could be said of Gundam’s pop mil sci fi.

      1. Robotech and Voltron. And a little Gundam, and Space Battleship Yamato, which is its own thing. I imprinted on the lion Voltron, so to speak, and Robotech. (Yes, I have the soundtrack. And the fan-funded DVD set.)

        1. Yamato is its own thing, but some of the more recent super robot wars have included it.

          Though, once you start counting the space battleships as mecha, the single pilot except for combiners/samurai inspired model is no longer as compelling.

          In SRW, the battleship/carriers are a pretty integral part of game play. They have a lot of sub pilots, and some tend to show up fairly early in the game, so you have more options for spirit commands on some of the maps you play before you really collect a lot of the mecha you launch from them.

  4. Mecha stories…if you replace “knight” with “giant robot,” you’re getting a rough idea of about the scale you’re working on. In series more grounded in reality, it’s “knight” in a reasonably realistic universe, where your “giant robot” has to be backed up by other forces. In series that believe in the propaganda of how the armored knight was the Ultimate Weapon on the battlefield, your “giant robot” is a machine of death and slaughter for anything less than another “giant robot,” and the characterizations of the stories and the pilots happen accordingly.

    There’s WAY too much here, and I’ve written and done notes on the mecha genre that I can answer any SME questions. 🙂

    1. That’s certainly my take on it.

      😀 But my view is influenced by Battletech/Mechwarrior a great deal more than by Japanese television shows.

    2. Somewhat agree here.

      Mecha are obviously inspired by cavalry traditions, and Japan is or was a cavalry tradition culture.

      There is maybe also some giant influence.

      Battletech was originally a gaming property, but there were a lot of tie in novels. I read Stackpole through his Star Wars books, but he apparently did a lot in Battletech. Not sure how accessible it would be for someone starting out now.

      1. I’d say that mecha are very much inspired by the idea of bushido and samurai, single warriors facing off on the battlefield against one another. Hence why most Japanese mech designs are a single pilot no matter the size, and their preponderance of bladed weapons.

        1. There are a fair number of multipilot mecha. But most of them are combiners*. Macross might have some two pilot mecha that aren’t combiners, but macross mecha transform, and a lot are inspired by real life fighter planes.

          Daiguard is one of the few multipilot mecha I can recall that wasn’t a combiner. And that was a realistic super robot, or started out realistic. So while it was transported broken down in sections, it could not be assembled under its own power. At least at first, I forget the progression of the series.

          Gundam has some pretty obvious samurai influence in the first series, which I forgot to mention.

          *Voltron/Go-Lion, Getter Robo, Power Rangers**, a bunch of others I would have to look up to be certain about.

          **Megazord. I knew I was forgetting live action. See Super Sentai. Combiners are often also a case of genre overlap.

            1. They are mecha. But the combined robot is the headliner. Most combiners function storywise because of the Japanese fixation on teamwork. The new Power Rangers movie being similar to the Breakfast Club? Because group dynamics are deeply important in Sentai.

              M3 and Pacific Rim are both non-combining multi-pilot mecha properties. But they are obviously inspired by Eva, and Eva are really *spoilers* meat robots animated by the trapped spirits of dead people.

              Shingu is something that I prefer to describe as the closest thing the magical girl world has to a crew served weapons system. But it might also be seen as a mecha series, even if not one that is essential to understanding the genre. (Very well crafted, and excellent music. But I don’t have a good enough memory, and a good enough eye for genre to say what someone would learn from it.)

              1. Just checked a wiki on SRW X. Of the 111 pilots listed, I counted around 21 with a description that included sub-pilot.

  5. We lived kind of out in the boondocks, so we had a towering aerial to pick up the four available television channels, which stood just outside my bedroom window.
    By the time I was about ten, I had figured out how to splice in the antenna to my AM radio. When the sun went down, I could pull in stations from all across the country, and never quite know what I was going to get. I stayed up late into the night listening to old radio serials, baseball games, and regional music. (Yes, the song “I Watched it all on my Radio” does trigger massive amounts of nostalgia.) So the vignette style of telling a story is right up my alley.

  6. For giant robots, there is also the Japanese live-action Spiderman series, in which Supaidamon has a giant robot whose ultimate weapon is, of course, its explosive throwing katana.

  7. Thanks for giving some recognition to Clive Cussler! While his later books became tiresome, the earlier NUMA/Dirk Pitt books were my first exposure to true Page Turners.

    And now that I’m thinking about it, I think that the spirit of Pulp Fiction transferred over to Cussler (and Jack DeBrul, and Warren Murphy…) for a while. Pulp never died. It sure did wane, though. But it stayed alive with the likes of Dirk and Al, who for sentimental reasons, are my favorite adventuring duo of all time.

  8. The Nickelodeon film several years back meant that myriad Tintin arcs got new editions published in the U.S. Many local libraries, direct market comic shops, and one big bookstore still have some available in my area. I assume more can still be had online.

  9. Ugh. Illustrated fonts. I don’t even like drop-caps.

    Speaking of fonts, I just noticed that the comment entry box is sans-serif, but the comments post with serifs. Weird.

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