Tuesday, June 17, 2008

For My Bookworm Friends...

Especially those of you who read sci-fi/fantasy...

We've been eased into "non-traditional" heroes and heroines in these genres over the years. We even have vampire characters who are unarguably blood-suckers, but still good guys. The vamps have come a long way since Bram Stoker.

Is there any reason that a writer couldn't take a leap further into the ever-blurring good/bad character zone?

Is there a line, in your minds, that separates what can be a good guy and what can be a bad guy, based upon what the character is rather than what they do?

With vampire White Hats in books and serial killer vigilantes on TV, is it simply a matter of time, or is there a sensibility line that can't be crossed? And if so, where does it lie? Blood sucking is apparently ok, and being a crazy mofo that does The Bad Thing for the right reasons (Think Edward from the Anita Blake books, god I love that character) but what about animal sacrifice?

If you're squigged out by the idea of animal sacrifice in books and you read Anita Blake though, I'm gonna have to whack you upside the head with a clue.

How about zombies? I mean in the traditional sense (Haitian voodoo) zombies are slaves to their creators, but popular culture has morphed them in many ways over the years. From shambling undead killing machines (either moaning "Braiiiiins" or grunting, it doesn't seem to make much difference) to coherent raised remnants of the dead (a la, you guessed it, Laurell K Hamilton, sorry, I love her books and she pushes the line that I'm addressing so well, it's easy to use her as an example) to movies where they're not really zombies but act like them because of a virus, there's a wide variety of interpretations on zombies now.

Same with werewolves, vampires, witches/wizards, technology, aliens, you name it.

But could you fall in love with a zombie hero?

Is the distinction the characterization? Is it ok to have a creature that would usually be stacked on top of the Black Hat category be a White Hat if he's really a good person, fell into it through no fault of his own, made a mess of things before but had a miraculous bout of leaf-turning and now fights for the side of good?

Or is it the overall tone of the book? Do you prefer a "gray hat" hero in a kick-ass mystery type, or is it easier to love them in a less intense setting like Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse novels? And does there have to be some kind of "bad" material to the character to make it believable? Ms. Harris makes us love Bill the Vampire right along with Sookie for a while, but then it turns out that he's an ass, although more on a personal level than a life-or-death one.

Where are these lines for you?

Just how smudged and stained can a writer make that white hat before he's not a good guy anymore, to you, the reader?

I'm very curious to see what the responses are on this one.

9 comments:

horse prof said...

Personally, I think the ability to smear lines is what makes a writer great. If you can write a story about a zombie which I, the reader, can relate to, the more power to you.

What becomes difficult is when you have a creature who consumes or injures items we care for (small children, pets, etc.). I think that is where the challenge lies.

Anne Rice did it with Lestat by giving him empathy; he often singled out *evil* people for his victims. If you can give a zombie empathy, I think people can relate.

Good luck with this; you're a talented writer.

Josh/Akodo98 said...

Mmmm, moral amibguity. How I adore thee.

You're right, this is the direction that most popular fiction lines have been progressing, from mass media television to books to video games (notably I point to "Bioshock" and "Assassin's Creed" for anyone familiar)

I personally enjoy how the act and methodology of storytelling is blurring the lines; I feel it more deeply involves the reader/player/viewer, making us consider our own right or wrongs in the context and view the characters thusly.. in the sense of the games, I particularly like the interactivity it presents; *you* choose how good or bad the protagonist is, with consequences thusly.

The danger I see in this is an ambiguity that stretches out so far as to disavow morals entirely.. I think some framework or fibre is required to ground the character in the "good" or "right" side of things. Can a zombie be a hero? sure. Perhaps in inhumanity it can be shown how far down the dark path humanity's trod..

Christina LMT said...

I love both the Anita Blake and the Sookie Stackhouse books (and many others in this genre...try Patricia Briggs), so I think a good author can make me care about any kind of creature. I recently saw a book in the bookstore that had a female zombie as the protagonist and narrator (and yes, she had to eat brains, I believe).
So I don't think there are any lines left, to be honest.

wordwitch said...

I also love Hamilton and Harris. Have you tried any of these: Tanya Huff (3 series: Blood Price, etc.; and its offshoot - Smoke and Shadows: and the Keeper's Chronicles); Kelley Armstrong (start with Bitten); Carrie Vaughn (start with Kitty and the Midnight Hour); Rachel Caine (start with Ill Wind); WM Mark Simmons (start with One Foot In the Grave); Alan E. Troop (start with The Dragon DelaSangre). These are all quite good! And if you want a professional editor to give your book a proofing, just let me know! Been editing for 10+ years now!!

Cheers,
M.

tweell said...

I'll admit that I don't like some of those, I don't have any Anne Rice or Hamilton books. Perhaps I'm too old-fashioned.
Still, the thought that no one is beyond redemption is compelling as well as fascinating. For me, a 'good evil' adheres to a code as much as possible, recognizes their failings and tries to do good, despite themselves.
A lot of mil-sf falls into this definition.

Jeremy Pope said...

I liked LKH until she devolved into porn - if you like her stuff, you might like Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series. Amazing stuff.

Thanks for the other recommends, Wordwitch!

Jeremy

Farmgirl said...

I've read some of Patricia Briggs's stuff, and I enjoyed it, I'm in lust with the Harry Dresden books (yet another series that I watch eagerly for the new release on) and several of the other recommendations here are stuff that I've read and enjoyed.

Christina.... Can you remember the name of that book or the author? I'd be interested in taking a look at it.

Christina LMT said...

Harry Dresden=DROOL!!!

I had my daughter call me at work to let me know when the UPS guy brought "White Night" to my door...read it after I got home in around three hours. *sigh* Sometimes it depresses me how fast I read.

I'm sorry to say that I don't know the author or title of the zombie book. I just picked it off the shelf, read the blurb and maybe a few pages (since I seem to remember it was in first person), then put it back because it didn't "speak" to me. I don't even remember if it was in the SF/F section or the romance section! Probably SF/F...:)
Sorry for the lack of info!

misbeHaven said...

When I read your post, I immediately thought of C.S. Friedman's "Coldfire Trilogy": Black Sun Rising, When True Night Falls, and Crown of Shadows -- in which one character ponders much the same thing regarding one of the other characters... a "hero" fighting evil who is also a monster (a vampire of sorts) who massacred his own family. Very twisted, and a great read.