Friday, September 4, 2009

A Waterfall, Not A Cage

The rise in popularity of UFC has demonstrated what the Romans knew two thousand years ago — beneath our thin veneer of civilization, everyone loves a good cage match. One of my favorites is from "Amok Time", the original Star Trek episode in which Spock fights Captain Kirk to the death. Spock's blood lust is driven by Pon Farr, the Vulcan 7-year mating cycle. (Fortunately Doctor McCoy fakes Kirk's death despite being surrounded by Vulcans with IQs more than double his own, gets the not-really-dead Kirk away from the gullible Vulcans and revives him.) But speaking as someone who once dated a Vulcan, I can assure you the Pon Farr cycle is brutal. Andorian women are much easier to live with.

In the world of crime fiction there are several iconic heroes I'd love to pair up, but the rabid fan in me wants those classic protagonists to team up to fight the bad guys instead of serving each other a knuckle sandwich. Sure, Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade might not always see eye to eye, and Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer just might deliver a right cross to one or both of them, but wouldn't it be a wonderful world if loners like that occasionally crossed paths and shared a drink?

I love a grudge match as much as anyone, but most of the protagonists I love, past and present, are too wily to get into a cage. Artie Wu from Ross Thomas' Chinaman's Chance. Any of Elmore Leonard's morally ambiguous male leads. Joe Lansdale's dynamic duo Hap and Leonard. Doc Savage. Sherlock Holmes. They might wrestle at the top of Reichenbach Falls if their back's against the wall, but I don't see them in a cage.

But if any of them does end up in there, you'll find me in the front row, and the popcorn's on me.

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