Houdini/Tesla (and …)

Iron Man aint got shit on me!

Iron Man ain't got shit on me!

So, I was letting my mind wander – as I’m wont to do – and I thought about Nikolai Tesla in all his grandeur and how he’d make for a wonderful superhero. A sort of predecessor to the likes of Tony Stark or, Bruce Wayne if you will. He’s the grandaddy of science and if he had reason to create arms, well, no one could best him. Then of course, being aware that Tesla is a contemporary of one of my all-time favorites, Harry Houdini, who was in every way, already a superhero (and spy), why not put the two together?

Quite the genius idea, ‘natch.

Imagine my fear, when, I found someone had already beaten me to the punch. It seems American author/illustrator and geomorphologist (whatever that is) Sesh Heri had a very similar idea when he created the book Wonder of the Worlds.

Wonder of the Worlds listing at Amazon

Wonder of the Worlds listing in Wikipedia

Apparently, the story is pretty much about a spy, Houdini, a scientist, Tesla, and Mark Twain (I’d have opted for Lovecraft myself) trying to defeat Martians who have stolen some crazy crystal technology from Tesla. Tesla builds some awesome ship, talks about how he knows everything about Mars including a secret war between the two planets (he IS Tesla, you know) and they all go and kick some Martian ass.

This book was part of a trilogy, I guess, though the other two books aren’t listed anywhere and this books seems to be out-of-print. So, not only was a great idea stolen from me, but now I can’t even read this awesome idea. For shame.

Anyway, having found this, and having an intimate knowledge of The Prestige (I was going to link this, but if you don’t know what it is, then, just leave. Now.) I’m feeling kinda sour on the whole idea. I know that both Houdini and Tesla have been used in fictional capacities about a million times and there’s probably room for one more, I just…ugh. My idea for a Verne-ian adventure book with Houdini and Tesla seems a whole lot less inspired now.

It could still be fodder for a Plankton anthology.

Oh well, both Tesla and Houdini will show up in various parts of Grotesk (which I really DO need to get back to writing) regardless. Edison will not show up because Edison is a chump.

In other news, I finished Millhauser’s collection of short stories The Barnum Museum. I had previously read ‘Eisenheim the Illusionist’ (from which The Illusionist film is LOOSELY based). I was a huge fan of that story, but I was very aware that, well, there was no real climax to the story and hardly much plot.

ALL of The Barnum Museum is like that. Millhauser has a style that I greatly enjoy and in fact, heavily identify with. He’s so busy setting a theme and feel; using such well written (though sometimes too plain) and heavily detailed setting that he almost always forgets to have a story somewhere in there.

Trappings I often fall into. It was quite a treat to be able to examine myself so much through another’s work. And, for the most part, it was highly enjoyable.

I was treated early with a lengthy examination of the board game Clue. Then the titular museum. Both were so vividly and extensively described that they really stuck in my mind. I can pull from my mind big chunks of description, for for the life of me cannot tell you what the point was. The game of Clue didn’t even finish. I went back and examined further to find that, yep, there wasn’t really a point.

But still, I sprinted through the majority of the short stories because I was always excited to get to the next one, and always anticipated what new wonderful worlds I might find. Until I got through the majority of the book when I realized that between the collection of short stories I wasn’t going to get a single resolution. After that the book came to a grinding halt (with only the absolutely delightful ‘Rain’ to get me going again). Millhauser’s voice is good, his setting is amazing, and mood/theme top notch. There’s a problem, though: it’s always the same. The theme for each story is pretty much exactly the same for each: the losing of, and longing for wonderment. No matter how talented a writer is, they run a huge risk of losing readers by treading the same exact concept over and over (especially when there’s no real change in voice at all).

This was most painfully pointed out in one of the short stories I was most looking forward to, ‘Alice, Falling.’ As you might expect, this whole story takes place during Alice’s lengthy tumble down the rabbit hole. It plays with Alice’s dreams, and her confusion at falling for so long down the rabbit hole and the wonderment of it all, except, it’s done in Millhauser’s own voice, rarely parroting Alice’s own and it comes off completely wrong. It seems dry, stagnant and at times, a mischaracterization (not nearly bad as Beddor’s attempts in Looking Glass Wars, but still). It was really hard to get through. Alice was falling, seeing the same things over again, dreaming of dreaming Alices, and falling some more. Matters made worse with this vaguely satisfying conclusion. Overall it was a struggle to finish.

There was another story where one of the ‘main’ characters was thrown in without any introduction. That character later tried to pull his head from his neck, but was stopped. The story ended without explaining anything about this character. Who he was, what he knew, how he could think about pulling his head off, and what happened to him. Meh.

The final story in the collection was Eisenheim, the one I’d read before. It is, and was the best of them (with ‘Rain’ a VERY close second) which is a disappointment as I’d read it before. However, it’s nice to now own it.

I’d say that Millhauser is a very talented writer. He can do things with setting and mood specifically that many cannot (or just don’t) do which appeals immensely to me. He’s in desperate need of a new muse, though (I’ve heard other collections have almost exactly the same theme). It’s also evident that he should never write more than short stories. With his inability (or unwillingness) to have a climax, a plot or satisfactory conclusions, he probably couldn’t hold my attention in anything more than a short story capacity.

I had been interested in picking up another collection of his short stories, Dangerous Laughter as there’s subject matter I’d like to see his voice applied to, but, I’m afraid of treading the same ground any more. I may just find the stories I want to read for sure and leave the collection alone.

At the end of the day,  I had fun with most of the stories until the ugly middle to two-thirds section (and ‘Alice, Falling’) and have even recommended the book with heavy cautions. Most importantly, it served as a good cautionary tale for myself.

2 thoughts on “Houdini/Tesla (and …)

  1. I say go ahead and do your Houdini/Tesla story anyway. Even though somebody else has done one, so what? Get that story outta your system, man.
    Besides, I love both Houdini and Tesla and as far as I’m concerned there can never be enough stories about ‘em.

  2. Hey D, thanks for making your way over to my lovely new home and being so kind as to comment.

    I know that even if someone has done the Houdini/Tesla pairing in fiction previously, there is plenty of grounds for others. Just, it was quite uncanny how similar the sole plot I was working on was to WONDER OF THE WORLDS. It’s a concept, in some fashion I will certainly explore in the future.

    In fact, new concepts have already begun to spring up in my head. Rest assured, even if it’s a short story, Houdini and Tesla will find themselves under my pen.

    Oh, and hey, I don’t know how it had slipped my mind, but, I added a link here to Pulpwork Press.

    Cheers again, mate.


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