It’s All Dr. Tachyon’s Fault!
by Carrie Vaughn
It’s all Tachyon’s fault. And he knows it.
That’s kind of why I love him. He’s like that one friend who tries to fix everything, fails (because no one can fix everything), and then wallows in guilt and anxiety no matter how little good it does until he’s not just not helping, he’s actively making things difficult for everyone else. Then he tries to fix that and the cycle starts over. (Spoiler: I am that friend. It’s me. I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better, I’m in complete anguish over my own rampant insecurity. Don’t mind me. Sorry to have caused trouble.)
(This sign in the gardens outside the Cloisters reads, “Let no one say, and say it to your shame, That all was beauty here, until you came.” I imagine Tachyon chancing upon it, then flinging himself to the ground, weeping.)
Seriously, it’s not actually Tachyon’s fault, but he’s the lightning rod for blame by virtue of being the person trying to clean up the whole mess, thereby putting himself in the middle whether he wants to be there or not.
There were two great heroic failures that first Wild Cards Day back in 1946. Jetboy failed to stop Dr. Tod, thereby leading to the release of the Wild Card virus over New York City.
But we sometimes forget that before that moment, Tachyon — Tisianne Brant Ts’ara Sek Halima Sek Ragnar Sek Omian of Takis — failed to prevent the virus from reaching Earth in the first place. For better or worse he stands next to Jetboy as the second founder of the Wild Cards world.
There’s a thing called survival bias, where we tend to get all our advice and take all our lessons from the people who succeed, from the ones who manage to reach the top of their fields or survive their trials or overcome their obstacles. Because of this, we rarely study the people who fail — but maybe we would learn more if we did. The defining heroes of the Wild Cards world are often the ones who fail, and I think that’s interesting. The series was born in a creative moment when lots of writers were asking, Can superheroes really save us? What if superheroes are deeply flawed to begin with? Wild Cards pushes that envelope hard.
Very few people in the Wild Cards world deny that Jetboy was a hero. But Tachyon? Not so much. Maybe if he had died it would be different.
And I do think Tachyon is a hero. A very flawed one, often an infuriating one. (You are a ridiculous womanizer, Tachyon! You’re lucky you’re so charming! And have such good manners! And are such a snappy dresser!) It’s so disappointing and yet so typical that the world finally gets an alien visitor and he’s, well. So much like us.
One thing I like about him: Tachyon has extreme remorse for some of the things he’s done — or failed to prevent. But he never, ever apologizes for who he is. He’s flamboyant, overdressed, womanizing, arrogant, sees no shame in crying, and he’ll never apologize for any of those things. When you learn that Tachyon’s creator, the one and only Melinda Snodgrass, is a fan of opera, it’s hard not see the good doctor as an embodiment of the ornately dressed, melodramatic personalities of the operatic stage. In fact, I imagine Tachyon has insider access to the Met’s costume shop when he goes shopping.
I think a lot of fans and readers (and yes, absolutely the writers) would like to paint Tachyon as the ultimate victim. He’s just so dramatic about everything. He’s a great character to bully because he takes everything so seriously. Poke him a little, he blows up a lot.
When I was in high school, I bought most of my books and comics from a great shop in Colorado Springs called Heroes and Dragons (this was when they were at their store at the Citadel Mall). Back then, in the late 80’s and 90’s, girls didn’t often go into comics shops. I was usually the only one there, surrounded by guys. But the great thing about Heroes and Dragons was I never felt out of place. Other customers might have stared, but the staff always treated scrawny little geek girl me with respect and made me feel welcome. So yeah, I spent a lot of money there, and I bought almost all my Wild Cards paperbacks there, right through the Baen years. Every time I went in, I’d check the “new arrivals” rack, searching for the latest Wild Cards novel. When I found one my eyes would go kind of round and crazed and I would grab it with both hands and basically fling it at the clerk along with handfuls of money.
So one day, cackling, my eyes gleaming, I brought my brand-new Wild Cards book to the register. The clerk was an almost stereotypical comic book guy, big and nerdy and always ready with an opinion. (Except like I said, really nice and welcoming, for which I will always be grateful.) He looked at my book and said, with a sigh, “Yeah, I used to read Wild Cards but I had to stop. They’re just so mean to Dr. Tachyon.”
Now, imagine this scrawny blond geek girl answering with, “YES I KNOW ISN’T IT GREAT?”
Yeah, I was one of those kids.
What Melinda and the rest of the gang were doing with Tachyon was horrible and brilliant and I’d never seen anything like it.
I just reread books eight and nine, One-Eyed Jacks and Jokertown Shuffle, in preparation for their upcoming rereleases. These two are the darkest, most traumatic books of the series (in my opinion). This was right around where the clerk at Heroes and Dragons told me they’re just too mean to Dr. Tachyon. These, of course, are the introduction of the Jumpers and the Rox War.
Writing this piece, I debated about how much to talk about what happens to Tachyon, particularly in Jokertown Shuffle. Because it’s. . .not good. Spoiler warnings shouldn’t be a thing for a thirty-year old book. But I think I’m going to put this discussion aside for another time. Maybe I just want to ensure that new readers are as traumatized as the rest of us were.
For those of you who know what I’m talking about: OH MY GOD I KNOW RIGHT?!
I was worried this particular storyline would read even more problematic and awful now than it did the first time around. We’re a lot more sensitive to depictions of rape and assault than we were in the eighties, when writers were outdoing each other with violence and grittiness because it was all so new and subversive then, rather than being the status quo that it is now. So I reread this, with every horrible awful thing that happens to Tachyon–
And it’s great. It’s horrible and awful–and it sets up everything that happens in Double Solitaire. Tachyon is brutalized beyond reason–and then he rises above it spectacularly in an epic conflict that balances what he’s suffered. With Double Solitaire, he becomes one of the few Wild Cards characters to get a complete story arc.
What’s more, he gets a happy ending. In hindsight, that shouldn’t actually be possible in the Wild Cards world. But here it is.
When I joined the Consortium in 2006, I figured I would never get a chance to write about Dr. Tachyon. He’d left the planet over a decade before. I suppose we could come up with some excuse to bring him back to Earth — but did I want that? Did I really want to disturb his happy ending, sledding off into Takis’s sunset? I wasn’t sure that I did. So I wrote new characters and new stories and reveled in the Next Generation.
And then George tapped me to write a new story for the first volume. Me, that crazy-eyed fangirl from back in the day, would retroactively get to be part of Wild Cards from the beginning. I knew, no matter what, somehow some way, Dr. Tachyon would have a cameo in my story (“Ghost Girl Takes Manhattan”). And moreover, I would show him at his very best: working in his hospital, showing kindness. The best kind of hero there is.