Tonight, five guests have gathered at the rambling Book and Story manor house for the annual Genre Dinner. This evening, spec-fic is represented in all its—ahem—glory, thanks to steampunk, fantasy, dystopian, superhero (Super), and space opera (SO).
The winsome grandfather clock in the red-carpeted hallway coughs, sending out puffs of dust, and announces in his chiming voice, “Six o’clock.” He follows this with six solemn bongs. The oak front door swings open and the guests enter and make their way to the dining hall, where the best silver and china sparkle under the light of an elvish-looking chandelier.
Steampunk: You all look fabulous this evening—except you, Super. Why in the name of flying ships didn’t you wear a shirt?
Super: It’s all part of the job. Have to make the public “oohh” and “aahhh” over the biceps and abs. My bosses say it increases revenue. I like to think of it as visual proof of my capability to save people.
Fantasy: The most unlikely person can be a hero. Muscle isn’t what triumphs in the end. It’s the will to go on in the face of defeat, the strength to fight when you have nothing left. That’s what makes a hero.
Super: Keep telling yourself that, Son. One day you’ll see the value of a ripped body. Not only does it make you look hot, the chicks dig it.
Dystopia: Be careful what you say. I might come over there and kick your butt. That’s what we do, and we’re proud of it. We might be small, but we can fight just as well as any man.
Super [sarcastically]: What planet are you from? Oh, that’s right, earth after everything falls apart (I’ve never found out what caused that, by the way) and you have to live in oppressive societies and make yourself tough because that’s part of your identity.
Dystopia: I resent that, you overgrown hunk of man.
SO: Seems like you resent life itself. Didn’t they teach smiling classes at your school?
Fantasy [raising hands]: Calm down, everyone. I have a story I wish to tell. I’m sure you’ll appreciate it, since it’s by far the most popular cliché of all time. That means it has historical proof of acceptance across generations, a feat not easily accomplished.
Super: Clichés are so last decade, pal.
Steampunk: Sir, you’re one to talk of clichés. I can’t differentiate you from any other superhero I’ve seen. In fact—
Fantasy [clears throat]: Once upon a time…
Dystopia [sitting up excitedly]: I know this story. The world is destroyed because the superheroes are too busy working out in the gyms or fighting one another. A remnant survives and builds a new society, but an evil tyrant takes control. There’s lots of crying along the way, and in the end mostly everyone dies. [begins sniffing]
SO: Easy there, little lady. We know you’re still a teenager and have a right to suffer from dramatic emotional tidal waves, but could you wait until after dinner? I’m not a teenage girl and to me it’s rather distracting.
Dystopia: Leave me alone. I have a right to express myself. It’s not my fault I’m overcome with angst every waking moment. Why can’t you see that? None of you cares about me.
Super: Glad she’s not on my team. We encourage loyalty and unity, not crybabies.
Fantasy [gives derisive snort]: Stop picking on the girl. I would like to see you complete a quest with your so-called team. You would need a shirt, though—the bushes in the Dark One’s realm have thorns like spikes.
Steampunk: Quests on foot are outdated and physically taxing on the body. I’ve found it’s always more economical to fly to one’s destination.
SO: What, in one of your fancy ships? Oh, those hunks of wood, which happen to be missing standard equipment like life support systems, shuttlecraft, docking bays, tractors beams, and warp speed capability? I’d like to see you survive five seconds in outer space, miss.
Steampunk: What would you know of it? You must be nearly eighty years old. I thought starship commanders needed to be young and reckless or else they would end up negotiating with the enemy until they’re bald. And then keep talking as if they’re sensitive to the use of canons, torpedoes, and blasters.
Super [with smug grin]: Don’t need any of those, personally. I’ve got all the guns I need in these arms. Not to brag, but they’re basically semi-automatics.
SO [to Steampunk]: They call me the Ageless One. It doesn’t matter how many missions I embark on, how many enemy ships I destroy, how many planets I save. I’ll keep on commanding my ship until my dying breath.
Steampunk: Honestly, your melodrama is like an off-tune symphony. But I forgot, you can’t survive without your drama. Wild chases. Endangered planets. Exploding spaceships. Why can’t you have an adventure like decent folk?
Dystopia [whispering to Fantasy]: They’ll never stop arguing. Should we run away? We could make a life together, just the two of us, away from all this. Please.
Fantasy: I can’t. My duty calls, and I would be remiss to refuse it. I’m sorry, but it must be this way.
Dystopia [begins crying]: I knew no one loved me. I knew it. Why did I trick myself into believing anyone did? I might as well kill myself now and be done with this miserable life.
Steampunk: Don’t think such thoughts, dear. I’ve invented a steam-powered machine that removes negative thoughts to calms the nerves. It’s missing a few gears, but you could give it a twirl.
SO: That’s where you have it wrong. The only proper way to end anything is by blowing the enemy ship to a billion pieces—and then having a drink afterward.
Super: You could do that. Or you could be cool like me and defeat the undefeatable villain then fly off to the cheers of millions of adoring fans.
Fantasy [standing up with solemn expression]: It’s all right, everyone. There’s no need to argue. We all know how it ends: everyone lives happily ever after.
Did you enjoy this genre conversation? I would love to hear your thoughts.