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No Feet Left

AN-bader-cockpitAs it’s been more than a month since the launch of Snapdragon, I can finally address one of the parts of the story about which I was most excited. Naturally, this means spoilers, so govern yourself accordingly…

I’ve written before about Douglas Bader –– the very real, very British flyer who lost both his legs in a low aerobatics accident, before becoming one of the RAF’s best Squadron commanders (and one of Germany’s most annoying POWs) during the Second World War. He’s been with us in Champions since Grand Banks, where his quick-thinking sent Alex into the drink, and obviously he had a lot to do with people surviving at all in Dragons.

But what he’s most famous for now, I should think, is being Stormdragon Leader.

Since the name ‘Snapdragon‘ was first uttered in Whitecoat, it’s been clear the plane was going to be a lightning rod for problems. When people are being killed over the plans for an aircraft, it just seems inevitable it’s going to be wrapped in drama, and when considering the limits of human technology, and the human body, it seemed likely that an aircraft which could dogfight at mach 3 might take a few more lives before it was done.

AN-Snapdragons1Anyone with a passing understanding of G forces knows why: the human body is a closed system, but it is still a system that can be affected by gravity. Blood can be dragged away from the brain and trapped in the feet, thus causing blackouts, and though the Saa have kindly provided Snapdragon with technology that mitigates Gs, such intricate kit needs careful calibration.

No time for that, though, when missiles are inbound… so why not get someone who has no legs?

The moment I read the theory –– alas, unproven –– that Douglas Bader was such an effective dogfighter because he had no legs, and thus could tolerate more Gs, a light bulb went off. This was long ago, before we even started Champions, so I suppose this is one occasion where a long-held plan has paid off. Almost as soon as this new Saa-developed fighter plane took shape in Whitecoat, it was clear that we’d need a double-amputee to become its first ace. Who better than Bader?

I’ve been excited about this for quite a while; unlike the realization about black men and dragons, I saw this one coming. As far as I know, it’s not common for people who’ve lost limbs to save the day in science fiction –– even though in zero G, one would suppose that not having legs would be of little consequence. I’d like to see it happen more… indeed, the effort to respect Colonel Gadson is one of the only reasons I can tolerate the hugely intelligent film Battleship (in which they power-slide USS Missouri, after taking her to sea from a cold start in about twenty minutes… sigh…):

I suppose there’s always a risk that fielding amputees could be perceived as a ‘gimmick’. In today’s context, I can’t abide by tokenism –– we have to have one of ‘these’ only so that we can appeal to a certain audience. Chalk this up to my muddled heritage; I know that people of all sorts are fundamentally human… so the idea that I can only empathize with a character who fits into my narrow demographic seems quite daft. No matter how many legs we have, we’re all intelligent beings…


That belief is exemplified by Bader. His idea to send Alex after Hood saved lives… and had nothing to do with his legs. His idea to get George Tucker below 10,000 feet and open all the ventilation gaps saved lives… and had nothing to do with his legs. What makes him a fine character is his intelligence, his decisiveness, and his brashness. If anything, the fact that he survived the accident that took his legs is further proof of his skill, not the defining aspect of his character.

So it should be with all people –– whatever race, gender, size, shape, orientation, or species, judge them by what they do, and how they treat others. There is no rule that someone’s goodness or evilness must be governed by the number of feet he or she has, so take each person on his or her own merits. In Bader, we’ve got a lovably-overconfident hero… who just happens to have saved our main characters three times already. Not bad at all.

This discussion is, of course, quite aptly timed, because right now in Sochi, the Paralympians of the world have come together for their winter games. Canada is already collecting medals; given my recent note about befriending biathletes (to survive a zombie apocalypse), it’s probably no surprise that I’m following that sport. Congrats to PEI’s Mark Arendz, who’s notched one silver already –– down an arm and he’s still a better shot than me. Also, our wheelchair curlers are on track for a third-straight gold, so good hunting to all of them, and to the rest of Canada’s team.

I haven’t done any research to confirm this, but I suspect –– suspect –– that a lot less money is spent on, and attention paid to, the Paralympics. But really, if you find yourself fleeing zombies, and need someone to keep you from getting eaten, wouldn’t you rather have a biathlete like Arendz to back you up… instead of a lazy, two-armed writer with bad aim? Or if there are missiles flying at your home and all you have is an experimental half-alien aircraft, wouldn’t it be better to summon a pilot with no legs?

Admittedly, those highly-specific examples may not apply to your personal situation… but the latter one certainly did come up for Alex, Stephanie, and Strong. Turns out, they were awfully lucky to have that guy with no legs around.

Good hunting, Canadian Paralympians. Onwards to Dominoes, readers of Champions.