Power…and all that stuff

by Caroline Spector

Recently, I got an email from George.  He was reminding me that I had a blog post due.  I explained that, no, my post was due two weeks later.  I checked my emails, and dammit, he was right.  Now I’m late getting this post done.  Dammit! 

In his email, George admonished me not to write about process. Which is fair, because it is — and this comes as a surprise to no one — super boring for everyone except the writer.  I could wax on here about how I do blardy-blardy-blar when I’m working. But who am I kidding? My work involves a lot of thinking, goofing off, and frantic deadline rushing.  There’s nothing like a deadline to focus the mind, and here we get back again to process which I’m not supposed to talk about.

What follows is pretty geeky. You’ve been warned.

So I’ve been thinking about power, and about my character The Amazing Bubbles (Michelle Pond) and how she is considered by some to be the most powerful character in the entire Wild Cards universe. I take exception to that.

Sure, she can take all kinds of kinetic energy damage and turn it into fat that she can then release as bubbles in any way she can imagine, depleting her fat as she does so.  The fatter she gets, the more powerful she gets.  The thinner the less powerful she becomes.

She’s jumped out of windows to fatten up.  Some of the best pugilists in the Wild Cards world — good guys and bad — have tried to put the hurt on her, all to no avail. She even absorbed — in an insane turn of events – another character’s power so that she could avert a full-on nuclear explosion, thereby saving New Orleans.

In various stories, she’s made rubbery bubbles, exploding bubbles, ball bearing bubbles, soft protective bubbles, walls o’ bubbles, and so on.  She is what clever guy and terrific writer Ian Tregillis calls “full of plot.”

(I need to do an aside here about her name.  When I created her, I was thinking about what her name should be and The Amazing Bubbles popped into my head.  It sounded like the name of a ‘50s stripper which, at the time, I thought was pretty funny.  The name sounds incredibly goofy now – Bubbles said this.  Bubbles did that.  But this is what happens when you think you’re being clever. At least, it’s what happens to me.)

In computer game terms, she’s a tank. And she can also be a damage per second character. So she’s two, two, two fun character classes in one!  (Like I said, this would get a little geeky). If you didn’t understand any of that, have a gamer friend expand on it and show you what it means.  And you’ll both have fun! 

Anyway, back to Bubbles being – or not being — the most powerful character in Wild Cards.  It’s all context.  Superman has kryptonite.  The Green Lantern has things that are… yellow. Spider-man has being … a teenager.  The Scarlet Witch, my favorite comic book character, has just shy of Dr. Strange levels of power, but unless she’s prepared,  there are a lot of things that can really damage her both physically and mentally.   

In short, all these characters have constraints on their power depending on context.

The same is true of Bubbles. In fact, there are so many characters in the Wild Cards universe capable of taking Bubbles out. Ye Gods!  Here’s just a brief list.

For starters, there’s Walton Simons’ character Demise.  When his card turned, he was rushed to the hospital in extremis.  He was revived, though he experienced the pain of death.  His power allows him to look into someone’s eyes, release that pain, and then bing-bam-boom, they’re dead.  All Demise has to do is look Bubbles in the eye and she’s gone.  Of course, Demise does live in constant pain.  He’s not-so-fun at parties.  (Check out ACE IN THE HOLE for more of Demise’s story.)  

Water Lily (created by Pat Cadigan)  has power over water.  Water!  She can instantly pull all the water from someone’s body.  It’s impossible to bubble and take damage when you’re a pile o’ dust.   Trust me on this one.  (Water Lily’s first appearance was in ACES HIGH.  A dandy read.) 

Kerry Tremaine,  Emma Newman’s character, can touch living things and turn them to stone.  Stone.  Now, she has no defensive power and at the current time is an all-too-easily killed teenager, but still, stone!  If Bubbles doesn’t deal with her quickly, Kerry wins every time. (Read Emma’s great story about Kerry in KNAVES OVER QUEENS.)

Popinjay, one of George’s characters, points his finger at you as if firing a gun and can teleport you to anywhere he can visualize.  He could easily pop Bubbles on top of K2 and she would be a Bubbles-popsicle in no time.

Ian Tregillis’s character Tesseract has the ability to create fourth-dimensional portals.  These allow her to move herself and others to a myriad of destinations.  Ian’s ability to twist this power into something horrible is impressive.  Imagine someone’s arm inside one of these portals and their body is in another.  And then imagine the portal shuts. There’s a lot of blood. And screaming.  (Check out  HIGH STAKES to see just how dark Wild Cards can get.) 

These characters, given the right set of circumstances, could make short work of her.  As would Carrie Vaughn’s Earth Witch whose ability is to control, well, earth.  She lays her hands on the ground and it obeys her commands.  Bill Wu’s Jade Blossom controls her own density and can touch others and make them heavier or lighter as well.  The Candle, created by Laura J. Mixon, can access a variety of flames each with its own power.    

It’s that whole context thing. 

(And then there’s always poison, drowning, suffocation, diseases, old age, and a maybe a broken-heart that can kill her.) 

We’re all ensnared by one form of power or another.  Some obvious.  Some not.  “You’re not the boss of me!” is a childish cry we’ve all thought at one time or another.  Or even multiple times a day.  There are people who have power over us in one way or another. Events over which we have no power. There’s brute force and subtle manipulation. 

It’s how you face power that’s meaningful.  It’s standing up when it’s necessary and bending when it’s not.  

Bubbles sucks at relationships which is a source of pain, sadness, and loneliness for her.  But she also has a daughter who she loves with all her heart, though sometimes it’s also with great aggravation.  She is profoundly disturbed by her profound desire to use her power and for the times when she’s wielded it with deadly results.   All these are relationships to power great and small.  In the end, Bubbles’ power is vast, but it’s what she does with it and her relationship to all the power in her life that makes her interesting.

Bubbles has discovered there are no do-overs. When people die, they stay dead.  When she screws up, she may try to fix it, but she doesn’t have the power to ensure it is fixed. That the most powerful can be brought down by the weakest. 

 Just like life.