When The Big Bad Won’t Stand Still

by David D. Levine

I hope it isn’t telling tales out of school to share with you the fact that the writing of Joker Moon was a bit more difficult than the other Wild Cards books I’ve worked on. There were some changes in personnel, including Vic Milan’s passing away before completing his story, and several stories came in late or required serious rewrites after being turned in. These rewrites meant that other stories had to change, including mine.

One of the issues I had to deal with was that the timeline kept changing. Joker Moon takes place over a long period of time, with substantial changes in technology along the way. I had originally pitched a story that took place fairly early in the settlement of the Moon, when jokers and materiel were being transported to the Moon via advanced spaceplanes, and a major plot point was Tiago hijacking one of the planes in order to escape the Moon and return to Earth. But changes to the overall structure of the book required my story to be moved later, to a time when most of the transportation was being handled by the ace Tesseract’s teleportation powers. This required a rewrite of my story’s ending and had other impacts.

But the biggest problem I had was with my Big Bad. When I first pitched my story I had a new character called “Barrister” Benson, an ace lawyer with mind control powers, as the villain. But George said that he was trying to move away from telepaths and mind controllers, and we’d had a prominent lawyer villain before in “Loophole” Latham, so he would try to come up with a different Big Bad for me to use. I worked on the story as best I could with no concrete villain, but months went by before I found out that I should use Malachi Schwartz, aka Split Screen. Even after I knew his identity, I had no idea what his motivations would be, so he wound up doing bad things for no visible reason. Also I was required to leave him in place at the end of my story, to be exposed and killed in a following story, which made it hard for me to come up with a satisfying conclusion.

More months went by, and other stories changed, so that I was now permitted to “take down” Malachi in my story — “expose him, prove him guilty, arrest him, render him harmless, send him back to Earth… but leave him alive.” But I still didn’t know what his motivations or crimes were, so I had a tough time figuring out how to do that. 

George suggested that I bring in Mary Anne Mohanraj’s character Moon Maid to help address the problem. George, Mary Anne, and I worked together to integrate Moon Maid with my story, though this was made difficult by the fact that Mary Anne’s story was also undergoing edits. Eventually we found a way for the two of them to be antagonistic to each other at first, then work together to take down Malachi who was the real source of the problems between them. I came up with a cool idea for Moon Maid to take Malachi down by displaying to the whole population of the Moon the bad things that he had been doing.

But I was writing this in June of 2018, and the idea that merely exposing a powerful man’s misdeeds would be sufficient to take him down seemed laughable. Every day’s news was full of powerful men doing terrible things right out in public, and not only getting away with them but being cheered by their fans. But I still had to take Malachi down, while leaving him alive, and do so in a way that would maintain Tiago and Moon Maid’s status as heroes. 

In the end I tried to finesse it. I decided to have a few key members of Malachi’s staff, after seeing undeniable evidence of his perfidy, hesitate to follow his orders. These hesitations provided cover for others to fail to take action against Tiago, which led to a few more coming forward in actual opposition to Malachi. “This is only proof of something I’ve long suspected,” I had one say. Others disagreed, but the situation was messy enough that all the parties in the dispute were put in protective custody until the situation could be investigated thoroughly. And, of course, once the situation was examined dispassionately, the actions of the Big Bad were so clearly inappropriate that he was removed from power. 

That’s how the story was published, but I was never completely happy with this ending. I felt that that the scenario was a bit too optimistic, and also that it let the Big Bad off too easily. But that was in June of 2018. It’s now October of 2023, and wouldn’t you know it, the chickens of the last few years are beginning to come home to roost, with indictments filed and small and medium-sized fish accepting plea bargains. Perhaps, with sufficient patience, justice will eventually be served.

The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense. But, in the long view, reality also winds up making a kind of sense. And if we wind up having to constantly rewrite our own stories… well, life is complicated.