Life generally is. So, strangely enough, are the people living it. Of course some of us are either stupid or lazy or both, or possibly ecstatically happy (as ignorance is bliss) and assume that everything is neat, compartmentalized and no further thinking is necessary. The world is sadly quite well supplied with these, who faithfully believe everything they’re told by those in who are currently in fashion as their guru/dear leader. It can be pure garbage, unsupported by fact or logic, but as long as it involves no thought, and has that guarantee of truth (‘everybody else that I want to be like is saying it’), they will follow narrowly and blindly. Once it was the hallmark of the camp-followers of fascism, now it seems to be really in with the new ‘left’ if you can call them that. Shrug. It’s always been evolution in action, and while the world is a gentler place than it was in history, sooner or later not thinking for yourself is its own reward.
Because things really are complicated. Doctrinaire prescribed ‘thinking’ just doesn’t work all that well, unless you mean ‘well for making you cannon-fodder’.
And the same of course goes for a lot of the characters we write… well unless you’re a vapid parrot. In which case your book will read like was written by a vapid parrot for a vapid parrot audience. It will no doubt have the all the correct ‘collect-the-token selection PC role-players and designated villains, and only suspend disbelief if you’re brain-dead. If that’s you, run along. Nothing for you here. There is a large, and bizarrely (at least from your point of view) rapidly shrinking Traditional sf/fantasy Publishing Industry just for you. Well, you and the all the other indistinguishably unique voices just like yours. Okay, sarcasm off. As you can tell I tried to read something by one of the darlings this last week. The publishers sent her on a tour of Australia, Europe and the East and West Coast of the US, and I believe she won several prizes and awards. Sadly for our hopes of honesty in advertising none were the ‘PC formulaic regurgitation award’, but hey, business as usual. Didn’t sell much, but got a great offer for the next book… Sarcasm really really off. Pinky swear.
This was a response to getting stuck finishing off the last of the latest Heirs books. I’ve tried bribery and it wasn’t enough so I tried punishment. Which worked. ‘tis done, but I have to go back and fix a couple of scenes. Reality: it a good enough, satisfying point to end, with much of what has been either in the dark or developing now in the open… heroes at least in temporary safety, villain exposed and set back. End is probably another 100-150K off. And I’m already 30% over…
One of the big issues with this story was, simply, that the heroes and villains are complicated, in a complicated set-up and with complicated motives. For instance, Lucia has by her view, been cheated of her birth-right. If she’d been male born out of wedlock, she’d have been her father’s heir (there being no legitimate heirs). How unfair! Except… well, she’d murdered her elder sister (who by primogeniture would have been heir). But that’s all wrong! They should have shared. And she was a child when she killed her sister. Yes: true. And she believes, or chooses to believe, it was her sister or herself. Both doing something they were forbidden to do. And then she was raped by her father… who she had bespelled to make him love her – a demand she made of a creature to whom human ‘love’ was alien, and only sex existed, of a father to whom love too was alien… and she, herself only understood it as ‘spoil and indulge me. Give me whatever I want.’ The father was riven with deep shame by it – and he was a conniving, scheming murderer, who had people killed for looking at him wrong (at least in his opinion, which was all that counted to him). And there are reasons why he was like that too (he was crippled or, in modern terms, disabled, and had never been expected to rule or been respected as a possible ruler, before he efficiently poisoned his popular and athletic cousin). There is material reason to feel sorry for all of them. In the PC prescription of roles, even the father would get ‘must get sympathy’ points, and Lucia would have so many she’d be a shoo-in for arch-heroine.
And those were the good guys… depending on your point of view. Kazimir has been the adviser and henchman to a genocidal monster who eats the skin of those who oppose him, skin flayed from the living bodies. He would have his henchmen eat with him. The character’s choice: eat or be next. So he ate. And planned the death of his master, at the hands of another –not because he thought the master evil – the concept was in itself alien to him, but to survive. Had he succeeded, he would have either had to seize power or be torn apart by the rest of the pack, for that was what his society had become. He has no real grasp of love, loyalty (something fear instils, as far as he knew) or caring for anyone else. When he was forced to flee he fled to shelter of a sadist who had sold her soul to the devil for beauty. There too he assisted… and conspired to let her entrap herself in a way that she could be killed by someone else. He feared her and knew her as driven by vanity, but he was not prepared to risk a direct conflict. Instead he planned her death at the hand of others. If it failed, well, too bad, there was nothing to point to him. He is not brave. Or kind. Or forgiving. All of those meant death where he was raised. When he does help someone it is a deceit and he is setting them up to be killed and provide a distraction. He relies on their own greed and self-centeredness (which he understands all too well, and manipulates deliberately, as he has all his life) to do the dirty deed. Only… it’s complicated. In PC points he’s an elderly white male from a wealthy background, and while he gets a few pagan points, he just has to be the villain.
And yet the book comes down to chances those characters have and the choices they make in them.
Of course those are complicated…