I’ll be taking a break from blogging until April 23 to devote all my attention to a secret project :3 See you all then!

Ah, sidekicks. Sam, Ron, Sancho Panza… the list goes on and on.

I always kind of figured that a sidekick (loosely defined) was a way to give readers/viewers an “easy way into” the story.

Like: for years, millions of youngsters have figured it would be just great to be Robin, so that you could get to live in Wayne Manor, use cool bat-gadgets, and punch out clowns with Batman.

The fact that some of those youngsters might have added a few other fantasies to the mix ❤ couldn’t have hurt matters either…

Batman fears discovery

Cold Shower required

So I was kind of intrigued to see Mieville’s take on them in Un Lun DunIn that story, everyone’s favorite Trotskyite critiques the institution of the Sidekick by having his protagonist discovers that in The Ancient Prophecy, she as listed as (essentially) “Chosen One’s Sidekick.” Her reaction is pretty memorable.

know you’re not a sidekick—”

“No one is!” Deeba shouted. “That’s no way to talk about anyone! To say they’re just hangers-on to someone more important.”

Damn, she’s right……

Nevertheless, the venerable sidekick is probably in no danger of extinction. Because it offers solutions to several formal problems.

There’s always a sidekick to make the responses the hero isn’t allowed to make: to get frightened; to add a lighter note; to offset the hero’s morbid speeches, and so on.
The hero has to supply the narrative dynamic, and therefore can’t have any common-sense. Any one of us in those circumstances would say, ‘What? Dragons? Demons? You’ve got to be joking!’ The hero has to be driven, and when people are driven, common sense disappears. You don’t want your reader to make common sense objections, you want them to go with the drive; but you’ve got to have somebody around who’ll act as a sort of chorus.

Michael Moorcock“How to Write a Novel in Three Days”

Moorcock, 1963

So…I take Moorcock’s point. I take Mieville’s point too. Sidekicks are useful, but on the other hand, they’re sort of politically regrettable.

How do we get the advantages of sidekicks without the degrading consequences?

I can think of a couple ways.

One is to make the sidekick smarter than the hero and therefore able to ironically comment on their follies

Another is to transform the sidekick into the POV character, or push them to the side of the story so they can report on events from a more objective place than the extraordinary, emotionally compromised hero.

Like, there are good reasons why the narrator of Wuthering Heights wasn’t Heathcliff, and why the narrator of The Great Gatsby wasn’t Gatsby.

Yeah, okay, so maybe Nelly Dean & Nick Carraway aren’t technically sidekicks, but Dr. Watson is for sure. Just tthink about how the Sherlock Holmes canon would suffer if Watson got the boot and all the tales were told from Holmes’ POV. No suspense, no humor, no slashy dom/sub interplay…

“I am here to be used, Holmes.”

—Watson in “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client”

“Good, Watson, good! But not, if I may say so, quite good enough!”

 —Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles

Of course, if you really want to make sure to avoid Sidekickery at all costs, the final possibility is to make your sidekick a cute animal.

I’m serious.

Consider the little floaty side characters in Yoshitaka Amano character designs, which help to deflate/humanize the mythic/ethereal/aggressive humans….

or the silent animal characters in Miyazaki movies…

from Spirited Away

These cute little guys get into trouble, overeat, get angry, & have all the cowardly reactions the brave hero(ines) aren’t allowed to, exactly as Moorcock recommends!

Plus, they sell lots of merchandise.

Even the Fool in the Rider-Waite Tarot has a cute animal sidekick.

Best of all, Mieville himself uses this method in Un Lun Dun with Curdle, the adorable animated milk carton.

So this technique’s immune to criticism for sure!

See you next time!

From my many precious jewels of fiction quotations, I’ve selected a few that showcase different methods of doing exposition.

Classic Infodump from omniscient POV

Flat statement

Ma KongQun suddenly let out a sigh and said, “You still can’t let go of that incident that happened twenty-three years ago at the base of Wudang Mountain?”

Gu LongBordertown Wanderer

Exposition by crowd/collective

Injun Joe helped to raise the body of the murdered man and put it in a wagon for removal; and it was whispered through the shuddering crowd that the wound bled a little!

-Mark Twain, Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Character learns the situation via summarized “montage”

Lucien threw himself with enthusiasm into inventing the epigrammes used as fill-ups for the newspaper; the journalists smoked and chatted, exchanging the news of the day, picking their colleagues to pieces, and handing on pieces of personal gossip. This conversation, eminently witty, malicious and flippant, put Lucien au courant with the current situation in the literary world.

-Balzac, Lost Illusions (my nomination for best 19th century novel)

Character remembers a detail, but not how he/she knows the detail

As he drove, he continued his theoretical analysis of his situation by means of a second well-established example. They had brought it up and drilled it into his own memory banks during his police training at the academy. Or else he had read it in the newspapers.

Philip K. DickA Scanner Darkly

I should note that this double-explanation move is not only a constant Dickian device that undermines reality itself by undermining how its constituent facts are known, but in this context, it also helps Dick show the protagonist developing two whole different personalities, one police, one civilian!! (Murakami got off easy in Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Because his story started after that split took place, he wasn’t forced to show it happening.) I love the double-explanation move so much.

Character spouts a mere theory that  proves nothing, but works as though it does

“Then he dropped through the floor before anything else could hit him.”

“I’ll buy that.”

-Alfred Bester, The Stars my Destination

The typical Alfred Bester character is more interested in advancing the storyline than proving his/her point.

“Up to then he was nobody. Then came the tragedy, and with it the hysteria and the ability. Don’t tell me one didn’t produce the other.”

-Alfred Bester, “Time is the Traitor”

Characters give only half an explanation to increase suspense

“I want you to tell me everything you told them. When you’ve done that, I want you to tell me everything they asked you, whether you could answer it or not. And when you’ve done that, we’ll try to take a little thing called a back-bearing and work out where those bastards all are in the scheme of the universe.”

“It’s a replay,” she said finally.

“What of?”

“I don’t know; it’s all to be exactly the way it happened before.”

“So what happened before?”

“Whatever it was,” she said wearily, “it’s going to happen again.”

John Le CarreThe Honourable Schoolboy

“Because of Explanation X, we can’t know Explanation Y”

ATTRACT MODE (literary equivalent: facts you learn on the book’s cover)

And I’m spent…

Dan Brown’s books have sold millions of copies despite an obvious handicap. And I’m not talking about their lousy style. According to google, Dan Brown’s books don’t contain any sex scenes at all.

I wonder why.

All descriptions of sex acts, erotica paraphenalia, documents, and secret rituals in this parody are accurate.

All said-bookisms, leaden dialogue techniques, and writing tics have been adapted directly from The Da Vinci Code.

(Honestly I should probably have also added an unrelated scene to intercut with these in order to pointlessly build up suspense, but I couldn’t be bothered…)

* *


Paris, France

Saturday Night

11:44 PM

* * *

Renowned sex expert Richard Longdon dashed through the doorway of his suite at at Paris’s ritzy Hilton Arc de Triomphe. His room was empty.

I am not too late.

Richard scanned the room, taking stock.

Vaguely labial abstract paintings, risque Aubrey Beardsley prints, and tantric illustrations from Southeast Asia lined the walls. The bed in the center of the room was covered by cool, soft 300-thread-count percale sheets and boasted a Serta memoryfoam iSleep system for maximum body support. The room was kept at an optimal temperature by heating elements and air conditioners hidden inside the walls of the hotel.

Richard turned on the stereo system and stepped over to the dimmer switch, lowering the lights.

The perfect environment for fucking.

As his cell phone began to ring, the sex expert felt a surge of arousal.

“Yes,” he said, answering. “Come right up.”

Smiling, Longdon pressed the ‘end call’ button.

Vicki LaPutain. The most beautiful woman in the Paris metropolitan area.

Longdon smiled to himself. The task before him, he knew, would require every last inch of his considerably sized penis.

Soon she will be here.

And I will have achieved what I desire.

Chapter 1

Beautiful woman Vicki LaPutain knocked confidently on the keycard-operated door of Suite 69. Her skin tingled with anticipation. She could hardly wait to meet the man on the other side.

Richard Longdon was considered the premiere sex expert on earth. Not only had he seduced hundreds of women, but during his twenty-year tenure as a Kinsey Institute professor, Longdon had helped the institution amass the largest collection of ancient sex artifacts in the world, including Pope Paul II’s secret diary, Prince Albert’s Prince Albert, and even the world’s oldest condom — the fabled Prophylactic of the Panpriaptor.

Even so, Vicki knew, Longdon was also in possession of an even greater secret.

A secret I must understand.

The door slowly opened.

“Good evening, Miss LaPutain,” said Richard.

Vicki looked equally aroused as her eyes scanned the sex expert’s body.

“I was pleased to discover you’re staying in Suite 69,” she said. “It’s quite a coincidence.”

“You’re right,” Longdon replied. “You’ve probably heard that the number sixty-nine — in French, soixante-neuf — is imbued with sexual significance. It generally refers to a position where two people mutually perform oral sex on each other.” Longdon winked. “That’s why I made sure to book this precise room number. Please, come in.”

He really is a sex expert. Vicki smiled shyly. She entered, surveying the well-appointed space.

“What’s this music you’re playing?” she questioned.

“It’s an American style of music called smooth jazz,” said Longdon. “It’s generally thought to relax the mind and body in order to prepare them for new possibilities.”

Like what’s going to happen tonight.

Vicki couldn’t tear her eyes from Longdon’s handsome, square-jawed face.

“Richard—,” she began.

“Please,” said Longdon, smiling. “Call me Dick.”

“Of course.” Vicki smiled, slipping out of her coat and draping it over a chair. “Dick, this might seem sudden, but there’s a reason I came to see you tonight. The truth is — I came here to fuck.”

She came here to fuck. Longdon felt a pleasurable pulse of excitement.

“Except first,” Vicki said, “I want to know something about you.”

Chapter 2

I want to know something about you.

Vicki’s words echoed in the scented-candle ambiance of Suite 69. Longdon wondered what she meant.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

Vicki looked out the window into the Paris night. A cool breeze wafted.

“I heard a rumor,” she said. “About your penis.”

“My penis?”

“Yes,” said Vicki. “The part that goes in my vagina.”

“I imagine you’re referring to the well-known rumor that my penis is quite immense.”

“That wouldn’t surprise me.” Vicki turned to face Richard. “After all, your name is Dick Longdon. However, the rumor I heard concerned something else—” She swallowed.

Longdon smiled.

“It’ll probably be easier if I just show you,” he said, opening up his robe.

Chapter 3

Vicki’s eyes swooped down.

Longdon’s penis — the part that goes in my vagina — was already erect. It appeared to be about 22.86 centimeters — nine inches — long.

“And you’re circumcised,” she observed.

“Yes,” said Longdon. “Most American males of my generation were circumcised as infants. Although pro-genital integrity activists claim that circumcision decreases sexual sensitivity, I’ve never known the difference, so I can’t really complain.” He winked.

“I see,” said Vicki. “But I’m far more interested in — that.”

Vicki’s fascinated eyes fastened on the minaturized Renaissance artwork that Longdon had had tattooed onto his penis.

The rumors were true!

“You really did it,” she whispered.

The image tattooed on Longdon’s penis was the Mona Lisa.

Chapter 4

“Why?” Vicki questioned.

Longdon closed his eyes as his erection pulsated. His brain could sense itself losing blood to the penis.

The memory…

The Mona Lisa, tattooed onto Richard’s most treasured organ.

The masterpiece of Renaissance art.

“If you want to find out,” Richard replied with a grin, “You’ll have to try it and see.”

“I can’t wait,” said Vicki.

The beautiful woman began removing her clothes.

The words of Richard’s sex mentor were fresh in his mind. Don’t get her pregnant.

“Vicki, sex can lead to pregnancy,” Richard reminded. “We should take proper precautions.”

“I’m way ahead of you, Dick.” Vicki flashed a triumphant smile.

Chapter 5

“I’ve been taking  birth control pills,” Vicki explained. “They use hormones to trick my body into thinking I’m already pregnant, giving me a shorter and less painful period and preventing me from conceiving a child.”

“My goodness.” Richard looked thunderstruck. She’s quite the professional.

“My gynecologist prescribed them for me,” Vicki explained. She unhooked her bra, revealing her breasts.

“However, there’s also a risk of STD and STI transmission,” Richard explained. “Especially since neither of us leads a monogamous lifestyle. So I’ve also prepared a condom. No offense,” he added, winking.

“None taken,” said Vicki.

Richard reached into the pocket of his robe and pulled out a Trojan 500X Triple Magnum condom with a spermicidal lubricant and a reservoir tip. It was constructed from an incredibly thin and skinlike, yet strong and flexible latex barrier. He tore open the condom packet and rolled the barrier onto his hardened penis.

By now Vicki had removed the last of her clothes. She lay on the bed with her legs open.

“Go ahead and enter me,” Vicki said, pointing.

Longdon’s eyes followed. Vicki’s vagina was magnificent, wedged in a slit where the legs met the torso.

“Vicki,” said Richard. “You know as well as I do that foreplay can enhance sexual pleasure. It’s probably best if I start by licking your clitoris now. That’s the most sensitive part of a woman’s body.”

Sophie argued, “I’m ready now. I don’t want to wait.”

“Then,” Richard said, unable to hide his grin, “get ready for the ride of your life.”

Chapter 6

Exactly nineteen seconds into making love to Vicki, Richard’s left eyelid began to twitch.

“The word orgasm comes from the ancient Greek orgasmos,” gasped Richard. “To mature or swell. It’s also known as… the climax….”

Shudders of pleasure tore up Richard’s body as his penis made contact with Vicki’s vaginal walls, plunging deeper into her already moistened flesh. Buckling, Richard crumpled to his knees, causing the bedspread to bunch up. His penis discharged semen, the spurts burying themselves harmlessly in the condom’s reservoir tip.

Richard pulled out of Vicki.

“You have done well,” Vicki said. “But there’s just one thing I don’t understand. The Mona Lisa is mankind’s most admired artwork. So why—”

“It’s true that I never last more than twenty seconds in bed,” Richard informed. “But with the Mona Lisa tattoo, at least I’m able to say that I always have a beautiful woman on my dick.”

Vicki sighed, relishing the afterglow.

“You were amazing,” she said listlessly.

Richard’s smile never faded. “So were you. But then, it’s no wonder you’re an expert in bed. The root of your name, Vicki, indicates incredible sexual potential.”

“It does?”

“Yes.” Richard winked. “In ancient Greek, ‘vici’ means ‘I came.’”


I just filed my Illinois state taxes. Not complicated, since I lead a boring lifestyle.

However, I couldn’t help but notice this cruel joke perpetrated by the IL department of revenue:

It seemed as if the very whiff of masculinity, the smell of tobacco smoke, or a bachelor’s joke, would spark off this feverish femininity and entice it to a lascivious virgin birth.

-Bruno Schulz, “The Street of Crocodiles”

I ran barefoot to the window. The sky was swept lengthwise by the gusts of the wind. Vast and silvery white, it was cut into lines of energy tensed to breaking point, into awesome furrows like strata of tin and lead. Divided into magnetic fields and trembling with discharges, it was full of concealed electricity. The diagrams of the gale were traced on it which, itself unseen and elusive, loaded the landscape with its power.

-Bruno Schulz, “The Gale”

What makes these passages so effective? An insistence on their own integrity? A refusal to simplify and clarify? A refusal to systematize? A refusal to allegorize? A refusal to provide anything except what is most dangerous?

Today’s device…. the POV character commenting on another character’s unusual remark.

Probably the most common way of using this is for the POV character to “explain away” the secondary character’s odd remark by making a philosophical claim.

In Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, Mandela the POV character’s fellow soldier is wounded. A medic’s reaction is in quotes; Mandela’s comment comes afterward:

“She’s very pretty.” A remarkable observation, her body torn and caked with crusting blood, her face smeared where I had tried to wipe away the tears. I suppose a doctor or a woman or a lover can look beneath that and see beauty.

And if the common move is to explain odd remarks by means of philosophical claims, its flip-side might be to use the move to ironically deflate philosophical claims. In Enrique Vila-Matas‘ Never Any End to Paris, two policemen search the narrator’s room and find out he’s a writer…

The two gorillas searched the garret, saw that no one was making bombs there, took a long look at The Assassin, and finally the tall gorilla asked me if I’d read any Simenon. I didn’t know what would be the best thing to say and decided to tell the truth, I said I hadn’t. “Well,” said the short gorilla, “we’ll be leaving now.” They seemed to be in a good mood all of a sudden, as if they’d managed to get out of an awkward situation. And, although they didn’t apologize to the innocent young man whose lunch they’d interrupted, the short guy did something quite thoughtful once they’d left the garret and were out on the landing on their way to the stairwell. He turned around suddenly and with all the ironic kindness a policeman is capable of, said: “Living alone in a dive like this is not such a good idea.” And the other policeman added: “It’s not good to live alone in the dense solitude of criminals.” This last came quite as a surprise. It was a strange sentence to hear spoken by a policeman, or by anybody for that matter. Anyway, did he think because I was writing about a lettered assassin I was potentially a solitary criminal? Many years later someone told me that “the dense solitude of criminals” was an expression Simenon often used.

Enrique Vila-Matas

I can also imagine various elegant uses of this device for characterization and secondary worldbuilding. Like this:

Detective Billings hesitated, then added: “The fact is, it’s a horrible law.”

“I never thought I’d hear a cop admit that,” I said.

Or like this:

“It’s a shame your timeline has ended here,” the cloaked figure gloated. It was a strange thing for a Timeline Assassin to say.

In both these cases, the device depicts violated expectations, thus allowing the normal set of expectations to appear by implication.

And I think coming up with lines like these is also a useful thought exercise for building secondary worlds: what lines, for instance, would sound weird coming from a thief, a con artist, a factory worker, an alien in your setting…? If you think the question through, you may be able to create a convincing feeling of depth.

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