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  • Jack McDevitt

Blog #9

Hutch makes her eighth long-form appearance in The Long Sunset. When she showed up in 1995 in The Engines of God, I had no expectation that she’d be back. In fact, my original plan for the novel used a veteran starship captain who was also a male for the role. But it didn't feel right. Captain Abel Blanchard, who’d been around the horn a few times and was a no-nonsense guy, was the first candidate. He generated some electricity, but not enough that I thought he’d capture the attention of readers. Or maybe power up my own generators.

I considered a couple of other candidates, including Mark Tucker, who was not very big but came armed with a sense of humor that would probably have gotten him an invitation to speak at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner. And Easy Eliot, the guy to whom they gave all the tough assignments.

None of them felt quite right. Then Priscilla Hutchins walked in the door, took a look at the alien statue on Iapetus, and she was on her way. Don’t ask why. It was purely instinct at work.

On the other hand, I have a theory. When I was still a little kid, during the forties, I was struck by the women who appeared in the movies and the comic strips. Dale Arden was either fainting or tripping off a cliff in the Flash Gordon serials. Lois Lane specialized in falling out of the Daily Planet building just in time to be rescued by Superman. Spiderman’s girlfriend fell from a bridge and never made it to the ground. It was a reflection of the world we lived in.

I attended Catholic schools. We were told that women should not be out chasing down jobs. Their responsibility was to be at home. To take care of the kids. And presumably the house cleaning. Our first family physician was a woman, and she was always referred to as the “lady doctor.” When D.C. Comics decided to introduce a female superhero, Wonder Woman, they did it –if my memory serves correctly—by bringing her on board first as the secretary to the Justice Society. That’s serious. She could probably have decked any one of those guys, except probably the Flash, who would undoubtedly have kept a safe distance. But she didn’t appear in the action segments of the early editions. She was present at the meeting, in which the superheroes discussed the strategy they would use to resolve the current problem, and then she would disappear out of the narrative.

I can recall two early exceptions: Nyoka showed up to bash a few heads in two serials: The Jungle Girl (1941), and Perils of Nyoka (1942). Watching her operate blew me away.

At about the same time, the radio hero Captain Midnight presented us with Joyce Ramsey, a member of his Secret Squadron. Joyce flew fighter planes and took down a few Nazis during the war.

I’m not sure that Priscilla emerged from Nyoka and Joyce, but for me, at least, she generates the same kind of electricity.

It is true that I never expected to see her again after The Engines of God, but I guess the reality is that she just wasn’t going to stand for that.

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