In the first weekend of December I read Becoming Superman, the memoir of J. Michael Straczynski, creator of Babylon 5, Sense8, and quite a bit more.
I wanted to read this book when I first heard about it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: some of the science fiction I write takes inspiration from Babylon 5. I felt I had to know more about the creator of that series. JMS’ memoir was tough going, but I really needed to hear his personal story.
In the book JMS tells of his terrible upbringing of abuse and poverty. He writes about trying to find his way, and not always succeeding, but never giving up on the effort. Some of those efforts led him to become a journalist, a writer for animated TV series, a writer and creator of live-action TV series, a comics writer, a film scriptwriter, and a novelist. Yes, the man has bounced around over his writing career.
The first several chapters are difficult to read. I won’t detail the abuse and hardship here; read the book. Suffice it to say that it was awful.
Yet even there JMS found hope. He discovered the old Superman TV series as a boy. The character of Superman gave him a better example to live by. He could be kind instead of cruel, helpful instead of selfish, honest instead of deceitful, and above all good instead of evil. That discovery in turn led him into the world of science fiction and fantasy. Getting into that world led him to the realization that fiction didn’t just appear, but was created by writers. Writing could be his way out as well as a way to channel his thoughts, feelings, experiences, and beliefs.
This is one of the great values of this memoir. Creating is a method of showing ourselves to the world. We create to be heard and to express who we are. You don’t have to be born creative. You just need the desire to channel yourself into whatever it is you make, be it fiction, art, cosplay, gaming, or anything else.
Later on, as JMS goes through different aspects of his writing career, another theme pops up. Time and again he’s asked to compromise his values or plain common sense to remain where he is. Time and again he refuses, because the compromises often boil down to the notion that the audience is stupid or that egos must be flattered at any cost. I think the lesson is this is if you’re going to put yourself into your creative works, you should show your best self.
This was a powerful read. At points it’s a very hard read. But it’s worth reading, even if you’re not a fan of JMS and his works. There’s hope in creativity, and this memoir drives that point home.
By the way, I counted how many books I read in 2019: 24 books. I’ll see how much I read this year.