Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Faster than a speeding bullet

by Robison Wells

I once heard an interview with an author, John Hodgeman, who began almost all conversations with the question: "Flight or Invisibilty?" It's an age-old superhero debate--if you could have only one, which would it be? What Hodgeman found interesting about the question was that almost everybody would answer immediately, and they would almost all answer Invisibility. However, as they'd talk about it for a while, people would consider the reasoning for their decision--almost all of the reasons would be somewhat dishonest: sneaking into movies, getting free subway rides, evesdropping, and worse--and then nearly everyone would revise their decision and take flight instead.

It's interesting to think about, but he made another interesting observation: almost no one thought they'd become a superhero if they gained superpowers. People who chose flight would fly to work instead of driving, and people who chose invisibility would go to free movies. That was about it.

Last night I was watching Heroes, a new show on NBC which is fast becoming my favorite. It's the kind of show that makes me mad that I didn't think of it first, because it'd be so much fun to write. The basic gist of it, for those of you who don't watch, is similar to the X-Men movies--people, seemingly at random, being to manifest superpowers--but it differs from the X-Men in that it trades outrageous jets and matching outfits for realism.

Anyway, last night my wife asked me which superpower I'd pick (selecting from those featured in the show) and I found myself picking one of the more mundane powers, for the same reasons Hodgeman mentions: I don't really think I'd be a superhero, just a guy with a really handy ability. Maybe I need to have nobler goals.

So, here's the list of powers in Heroes (as far as I can tell so far). Pick which one you'd most like to have, explain why you want it and what you'd use it for.

*Stopping time (as in, you could freeze everything, then do something, then unfreeze time again)
*Clairvoyance (you can see the future, in a limited kind of way)
*Super-healing (you can get really hurt--almost dead--and then heal right back up)
*Mechanical Magic (I'm not sure what to call this one. It's the ability to "magically" fix mechanical things.)
*Intangibility (being able to walk through walls)
*Photographic Memory (being able to instantly remember anything you've read or seen)
*Persuasion (the ability to endure crappy Jane Austen movies! Har! No, it's actually the ability to control people's will.)
*Radioactivity (the ability to control radiation, to heat stuff up)
*Reading people's thoughts

I think that I'd probably pick the photographic memory. Since I don't really plan on saving the world, it seems the most useful in everyday life. But that's just me. What would you pick?


At 11/14/2006 8:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd have to go for super healing because my health is my biggest stumbling block. (Yes, I'm just as self-centered as the next guy.)

But I liked the photographic memory too. Again, because my memory stinks.

Guess I'm not very altruistic.

At 11/14/2006 9:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd say photographic memory. I always think of something I've read in books, or other things I've read at school or other places when something happens and U wish I could quote what it was I read. (ex: Yesterday I went to a scrap booking party and I remembered that in The Counterfeit, the counterfeits were made in an old scrap booking warehouse. I started laughing and when others asked why, I couldn't really explain.)

At 11/14/2006 9:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally, I'd choose the one gift you didn't mention. I don't know what to call it, except maybe the Mystique. It's the one where you can mimic the powers of one of the other "heroes" who is near you. But then, I have grand delusions of saving the world.

At 11/14/2006 9:21 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

As long as it's not to be a superhero, I'd probably go with the memory too or maybe super strength. Bring on those pickle jars.

The problem with the superhero thing is that one superpower just isn't enough. Imagine a superman who can't be hurt but has no superstrength.

"Okay, so our bullets can't hurt you. We'll just sit on you while we mug the bus full of ladies."

Or no superhearing. "Superman help! Oh that's right he's downstairs with the TV on."

Even superstrength isn't all that cool without invincibility. "Okay so whoever gets in the first punch wins."

That's why the X-Men have to go in as a group.

So as long as there is no pressure, I'd happily take pretty much any of them. I mean if no one could see you go in and the seat was going to be empty anyway, would it really be that much of a sin to sneak into the theater?

Maybe more of a minor sin, say like using the ATM on Sunday.


At 11/14/2006 10:39 PM, Blogger John Ferguson said...

Sorry, I have to choose one that isn't on the list--teleportation. I've always thought it would be cool to do that. Of course, there are the mundane things you could skip like going up and down the stairs to get the laundry done, and not having to get wet running from the store to your car (unless you could teleport all the way home or across the country COOL!)

I have written several stories about teleporters being able to help people, too. Imagine how many more people a teleporting firefighter could save especially if he could teleport another person with him. Or a soldier. And if all that hero stuff isn't for you, you could make a WHOLE LOTTA MONEY performing in Vegas, baby!


PS - If I had to choose one of the above I would probably choose time control. (Of course in the show he can teleport from Japan to New York city, but we are sticking with your exact list aren't we.)

At 11/14/2006 10:54 PM, Blogger Stephen M (Ethesis) said...

I really never got what use invisibility would be. To do things you could accomplish with less than a hundred dollars (how many movies are you really going to sneak into?).

The same for the powers you've listed. I've not seen the show, but most of them don't seem to be really useful outside of a scenario where the plot is on rails.

Go play some Champions or Superworld.

Interesting reflections though.

At 11/15/2006 11:28 AM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Anonymous #3, I purposely left that mimicry ability off the list because it seemed so useless in a world full of non-superheroes. For all I know, I have that ability right now, but I don't realize it because I've never run into Superman on the street.

But if you want it, go for it.

At 11/15/2006 11:30 AM, Anonymous Fellfrosch said...

Flight, hands down, and I imagine that once the rest of you actually saw someone flying around you'd feel kind of silly about your boring choices.

Choosing photographic memory because "it's the most useful in everyday life" seems a little short-sighted to me, because once you have a superpower you're not liable to have an everyday life anymore, unless you're freakishly lacking in ambition or imagination. Even if you don't become a superhero, any number of the listed abilities would be profoundly life-changing, if not world-changing, if you used them unselfishly. Imagine what you could do for Search & Rescue if you could fly or stop time. How many more people could a firefighter save if she could instantly regenerate all damage and didn't have to worry about smoke inhalation, heat exhaustion, or burns? Or if the same firefighter could simply walk through walls and flames untouched?

Even if we're talking about purely mundane uses of supernatural abilities (which seems like a pointless discussion to me, but okay), flight as a recreational superpower trumps everything on the list. If Rob wants a photographic memory because he's too dull to think of any use for a more exciting power, that's fine--he'll be able to remember with perfect clarity how sad it feels to stay earthbound while I soar over mountaintops.

At 11/15/2006 11:45 AM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

I don't know. With the exception of some emergency-related professions, most of the other powers listed here would essentially be parlor tricks. Flight would be fun recreationally, but it wouldn't really be practical for anything unless it was coupled with another power--superstrength, for example. In your Search & Rescue example, if I was exactly the same as I am now, except I could fly, then I'd better hope that the person I'm rescuing is fairly lightweight, and in no serious danger--because other than the ability to get to the scene really quick, I'd be no different than I am now.

Likewise, stopping time would be handy for two things: an emergency profession, or causing trouble. So yeah, if I could suddenly stop time, I'd probably feel it was my duty to join the police force, but other than that I'd probably just pull a lot of pranks: unscrewing the cap on the salt shaker and tripping people.

At 11/15/2006 11:54 AM, Anonymous Fellfrosch said...

If you discount "helping other people" as a genre of power usage, perhaps you're more lacking in ambition than I thought.

At 11/15/2006 12:11 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Freezing time would be awesome.

No clean socks? No problem. I'll just freeze time and do a load of laundry. Need to pick one daughter up from a meeting, feed the family dinner and ferry two daughters to YW--at the same time? No problem! Got a disaster of a house and the visiting teachers coming in five minutes? No problem! Need to finish up that novel but the household is in chaos? Zap!--and they all hold still until you're done.

At 11/15/2006 12:16 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

No, what I'm getting at is that I don't think the average person--even the average cop or firefighter--runs into superpower-requiring situations very often.

Let's say I could fly and wanted to become a superhero. I wouldn't have the slightest idea of where to find muggings and robberies and cars with no brakes. Without some kind of superhearing, it would all be a matter of luck. (In my entire life, I've only witnessed a handful of crimes--only three violent crimes I can remember. If I'd had superpowers, I could have stopped them, but stopping violent crime once every nine years hardly seems like a superhero.)

If you were a cop, superpowers would be more useful, but unless you were SWAT then you'd probably only get a chance to use your powers once every couple of weeks at most. Granted, they'd be really handy, but the average cop spends a lot more of his time writing tickets than he does stopping crimes in progress.

At 11/15/2006 12:45 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

I would choose mechanical magic. That really would come in handy for me. Many of the other powers seem to be too manipulative and would take away other's free agency and that wouldn't be using the power for good.

At 11/15/2006 4:26 PM, Blogger Brian Giles said...

If I was an undercover FBI agent I would take the invisibility power. I think that would work great for following suspects and evesdropping on terrorists.

For a regular joe schmoe I would take the photographic memory. If nothing else it would definately help when I'm having an argument with my wife on what exactly I did say!

At 11/15/2006 6:35 PM, Anonymous Jennie Hansen said...

I didn't know a photographic memory was a super power. I found it handy when I was in high school and college, but haven't had a lot of use for it since. Unfortunately as I got older it dimmed to the point where I only have rare snatches of that type of memory and it is limited to things I read. It doesn't work on anything else. The worst part of having a photographic memory is that it made me lazy and I never really learned to study or listen well.

At 11/15/2006 9:46 PM, Blogger FHL said...

Definitely reading people's thoughts...

Yeah, I can see how much trouble it is, but you'd be able to do both sneaky things (like cheating at cards or game shows) but also be able to help people (ie Mark(?) with his wife. Am I the only one who finds her incredibly attractive? Except for that whole indiscretion thing.) It'd be worth going into psychology with a power like that.

Seems like it would be extremly useful in a business situation - Finally, I CAN read the boss's mind!

Problem with a photographic memory: no point in re-reading favorite books. =(

At 11/15/2006 9:47 PM, Blogger Evil HR Lady said...

I'm all in favor of being able to stop time. Think how much more time I could waste on the internet!

At 11/15/2006 10:20 PM, Blogger Evil HR Lady said...

And, I want to add that there is a serious problem with intangibility. If you can walk through walls, then why don't you fall through floors? And even if you can turn it off and on, when you turn it on to walk through a wall, don't you immediately fall through the floor?

That bugs me.

At 11/16/2006 8:28 AM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Evil HR Lady, I would imagine that if you're able to alter your molecular make-up to the point you could walk through walls, then maybe gravity doesn't have much pull on you? Just a theory.

FHL, I have to admit that I can't even picture the wife in my head, but I'm just hoping the cop doesn't end up with the FBI lady--she's weird.

At 11/16/2006 10:18 AM, Blogger Matthew Buckley said...

Wait, I've been watching the show. Who has super strength? And who has the power of persuasion?

At 11/16/2006 11:25 AM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

I think that Niki probably has some form of superstrength -- she threw somebody across the room. No one really knows the nature of her weird multiple personality power, so I boiled it down to superstrength for the sake of simplicity.

In this week's episode, it appeared that Claire's dad's assistant had some kind of power of persuasion. It's not very clear, though.

At 11/16/2006 11:33 PM, Blogger Keith Fisher said...

I'm going for stopping time. I could get so much done I'd have time for all the things I want to do.
However I remember a twilight zone episode where a man could do that but it got stuck and he couldn't turn it back on. he went mad because there wasn't anyone to talk to.

At 11/21/2006 11:34 AM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

My husband said he'd pick the stopping time, but for me, that has too many rules and restrictions on what can/can't be done.

After last night's episode I know which power I'd pick. Persuasion.


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