The Sanctity of Fictional Life

The Sanctity of Fictional Life

It’s no secret that I like the Urban Fantasy, whether in books or in TV. This doesn’t apply only to Urban Fantasy, but to all genre-style books, movies, and TV shows (excluding romance). These works of fiction tend to have a high body count. Whether it’s the victim before the opening credits of a TV show, or the innocent bystander being killed in the carnage of the two heroes duking it out above the city in a movie, or the person who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when the sexy rogue vampire is walking through the pages of a novel, genre fiction is a bloodbath, and life (except for the main characters) is cheap.

With that much death, it’s hard to comprehend how we’re supposed to feel about it. It should be shock value when the villain just lashes out and kills another hostage, is it? We’ve lost almost 200,000 people to a virus, and most of that was due to negligence and political infighting. Each of those lives means something, but the number is so staggering, we can’t comprehend it. It’s why people don’t wear masks anymore. They don’t see the lives, they see a number.

I write primarily in Urban Fantasy, and I’m really squeamish about killing people. I mean, I have. My nostalgia novel Infinity has a pretty shocking death toll, and the vampire in my vampire novel’s gotta eat. But usually I let people live.

Partly it’s because of logistics. For example, the population of Sunnydale, California, could have, in no way, supported the amount of people who died there on a weekly basis. And who would want to be a Gotham City cop or a guard at Arkham Asylum when anytime one of them appears on panel, they get their throats slit?

But mostly it’s empathy. Even fictional characters have a family who will miss them. They had favorite movies and food, and statistically, some of them have got to have pets. They may be made up by me, but they’re more than just a statistic to make the bad guy seem extra bad and for the heroine or heroine vow to avenge and then forget later.

Also, I found a lot of storytelling possibilities. In one case, a character who should be another dead victim is turned into a trauma survivor who becomes friends with the heroine. And when I do decide to kill someone, the loss of a life means something to their family, to their friends, and to the heroine who witnessed it. I’ve just made the on-the-cuff decision to kill a minor character in my current book, and it’s really allowed me to think about who he was when he was alive, and to get to know him, not just through his funeral trope where everybody stands around a hole while a priest drones on, but through the wake, a celebration of his life and his potential.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I don’t really have the stomach for the way non-main characters are treated in genre fiction, and the only solution to that is to do it better.

Swallow This

My first horror movie was Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. Prior to that, I’d spent fifteen years squeamish around gore and sensitive to people in pain. Horror movies in the eighties and early nineties were primarily slasher flicks, and I had no interest in seeing people get murdered, and I certainly didn’t want to see any guts. I liked my violence clean and sanitized and without any real consequence, as in superhero comics and Star Wars.

And then came the sleepover where I woke up early in the morning, and my friend was watching one of his favorite movies. I poured some coffee and joined him, catching the beginning, before the insanity started (and this was early in the movie, because the insanity starts pretty much right away), and I watched, through dismemberment and torture, and I wasn’t at all queasy like I’d expected myself to be. I was transfixed by the sheer spectacle of it. It was just around the time that the hero’s demon-possessed hand dragged himself into the kitchen to hit himself in the head with every single plate in the tri-county area that I turned to my friend and asked, “Is this supposed to be funny?” He told me that it was.

Evil Dead 2 is not so much a horror movie as it is a demented cartoon. Director and writer Sam Raimi throws subtlety and nuance down the garbage chute while invoking terror and tension, never giving the audience the chance to relax. Leading man Bruce Campbell has to carry a large portion of the movie by himself, and he is over the top while convincingly being horrified, terrified, grief-stricken, and angry. This movie sucks you right in and doesn’t let you go, no matter how ridiculous it gets.

In the hour and a half that I spent in my friend’s living room, I became desensitized to violence and gore on the screen, and suddenly I could watch any movie without fear. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less blasé about onscreen death, and now I find myself wondering after the families of the people who are getting killed in my fiction.

I guess the whole point of this post is that I just finished a rewatch of Evil Dead 2 after decades of it existing only in my memory, and I have to say, it still holds up. Groovy.

Like Cheese and Fine Wine

A pet peeve of mine: Those memes where they say, “If you remember/get this pop cultural reference/lifestyle/article of technology, you’re old.” A variation is the insinuation that most people won’t get said pop cultural reference/article of technology.


We get it. You’re older. Things are different now. Younger people might not recognize the things we liked when we were their age.

But, unexpectedly, some might. I was listening to the Byrds, Donovan, and Steppenwolf when I was a kid, and those were way before my time. Don’t assume that you’re different than them because you rode your bike without a helmet and didn’t die. You’re not better because you can use a rotary phone. Helmetless riding is dangerous, and rotary phones were obnoxious.


I get nostalgia. I think there’s way too much of it, but I get it. Sometimes I feel like grabbing people my age by the shoulders and saying, “Remember dot matrix printers?” I don’t think I’m superior because I had to tear off the sheets, one-by-one, and those strips with the holes in them. Remember them? They were so wasteful. Did you ever make springy things out of them? I did, all the time. Printers are so much better now, but without the springy things.

Knowing this hiccup in the march of technological progress is kind of like being in a secret club with millions upon millions of members. I understand how that feels. But the smug winking of these memes really annoys me.

Mandela Effect

I had a long conversation about the Mandela Effect with Nicole and her friend because he had stated he wanted to see a band in concert, she told him he had already, he told her he hadn’t, and she found pictures on Instagram of him seeing that band in a concert he had no recollection of.

The Mandela Effect, if you don’t know, is the collective false memories that our society has about famous events. For example, most people remember four people in the presidential limo on November 22, 1963, despite the fact that there were actually six. Mostly, it’s pop culture, like the lines “Hello, Clarice” from The Silence of the Lambs, “Luke, I am your father,” from The Empire Strikes Back, or “Beam me up, Scotty,” from Star Trek, lines that were never uttered in any of those movies or TV shows. Some say that they saw video of the man in Tiananmen Square get run over by a tank, despite that no such video exists. There are those who swear that it’s spelled Volkswagon, not Volkswagen (despite that the former is not remotely German). The Mandela Effect gets its name from the fact that Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, despite the fact that a large number of people remember seeing his funeral on TV years before that, and if you go to any page on the subject, particularly pages with comments, people are really freaked out about it.

I have a Mandela Effect of my own, in a guy I went to college with who married someone close to me and is friends with most of my friends from back then and has pictures on their Facebook page of concerts that I’ve been to and is someone I should at least know peripherally, but I have no memory of whatsoever. I’ve spoken to my psychiatrist about this, and he agrees that selective editing of my life like this is highly unusual, even for someone with a legendarily lousy memory such as myself. But there it is, a “this-guy” hole in my life.

There are lots of explanations for the Mandela Effect, including alternate realities and the fact that the world actually ended on December 21, 2012, as was predicted by the Mayans, making this is some kind of weird echo/restart. Perhaps we’re all in virtual reality, and they keep rewriting the Matrix. Maybe something went funky with the Hadron collider.

In the end, though, it is simply misremembering things. Memory is one of the most fallible parts of our experiences as humans, and in a world that makes very little sense, our minds will fill in blanks to make things coherent. For example, one of the biggest bits of evidence that people will use for the Mandela Effect is the Berenstain Bears, the children’s book and cartoon series. People will swear up and down in a court of law that it’s Berenstein Bears, and the fact that it’s not is evidence that something’s not right in the world, not that they just remembered it wrong. When you think about it, -stain isn’t very often the end of someone’s surname. It’s usually -stein. People made assumptions, they were wrong, and they dug in their heels and declared that they couldn’t possibly be wrong, so the universe must be broken. I myself thought it was Berenstein until I learned about its place in the Mandela Effect conspiracy, and I just accepted the truth (i.e. it has always, from day one, been Berenstain) like an adult.

The Mandela Effect is kind of fun and a little bit creepy at times, but there is no such thing as alternate dimensions where they’re known as Looney Toons, not Looney Tunes, as they have been since the forties. This conspiracy is just another way that (mostly) Americans can defy the truth that’s in front of our eyes in favor of our “intuition.” This is yet one more reason we’re still in quarantine six months later when listening to the medical experts could have slowed down if not stopped the spread of a deadly virus. It’s the reason our president can gleefully violate the Constitution and other American laws and get away with it.

You’re going to be wrong about things, even things you’re positive you’re right about. It doesn’t make you less of a person. It makes you more of one.

A Series of Bad Mistakes

I just sat through a season of one of the worst TV adaptations of a beloved novel (a series of novels, actually) that I’ve ever seen. The directors’ only direction to every hero was, “Look out of breath,” and every antagonistic character was, “Act smug.” The adapting writing was pretty bad, as opposed to the book, which was really well put together. The main villain was supposed to be on a quest for a series of sacred objects, but all he had to do was sit back, kill a few of his minions to prove how evil he was, and let the good guys retrieve all the sacred objects for him and hand them over to him under minimal duress. I wanted to scream, “Stop helping him! He’s smarmy! He didn’t know where this shit was before you dug it up, you idiot!”

The acting was terrible across the board, but the worst was one of the romantic leads, whose character was a flat-out asshole, but his only expression was the same one you make when you’re holding back a giggle because you unleashed a silent-but-violent and everybody is going to smell it any second now. That was seriously it. Fights hoard of demons, guilty snort. eaffirms his bond with his best friend, guilty giggle. Gets married, guilty giggle. Betrays his best friend, guilty giggle. His best friend gives him an impassioned (well, impassioned for these actors) speech reaffirming their friendship, guilty giggle.

Thirteen episodes, at forty-five minutes each. That’s nine hours and forty-five minutes of precious, precious time I spent on this show. There are two more seasons. Hard. Pass.

Desert Flora Through Time and Space

One of my earliest memories is when I was a really, really young child, and I stumbled on my dad watching Doctor Who for the first time. The image seared into my brain was a man with brown, curly hair and a large, red scarf, made up to look like a cactus, stumbling around. Scared the living crap out of me.

Almost forty years later, I’m watching “Meglos” again, and two things occur to me. One is that the model work on the pirates’ spaceship was outstanding, and I have no idea how they did it at that budget.

More importantly, in the eighties, most movie and TV producers would look at a script and say, “Put our lead actor in full cactus makeup? That would be ridiculous! Not on my watch!” But Doctor Who producers read the script and said, “Tom Baker as a cactus? That would be ridiculous! I don’t care what it takes, make it happen!”

And that’s why I will always love Doctor Who best.

The Hero We Need

Something I’ve been thinking about lately as I’ve been watching more TV and movies due to being trapped in the apartment. Star Trek, as a concept, will always be superior to Star Wars*, and that’s because of what it teaches you about heroism.

In Star Trek, Captain Kirk wasn’t there to save the day because of some prophesy, he was there to save the day because he chose to go through Starfleet Academy, and he performed well at his job, and he was promoted to captain. Picard wasn’t born to be captain, he earned it.

In Star Wars, you’re either born a Jedi, or you’re not. You can’t choose to become a Jedi. Also, being part of the Skywalker family absolves you of murder and genocide, so there’s that. I know, I know, Star Wars fans, there’s Han Solo and Poe Dameron and Finn and all these guys who are heroes despite not being born with the gift, but their stories take second billing to the battle between The Light and Dark side.

This isn’t just Star Wars. Hardly a property exists anymore where the hero isn’t made, they’re born. Harry Potter (all the characters), Neo, the aforementioned Luke Skywalker, Thor, both Buffy and Angel, the new Sabrina, Doctor Who now, and so on. It’s this damned hero’s journey that Hollywood is so obsessed by, where heroism is this external force that is bestowed on someone, as opposed to them actually deciding to be a hero on their own. And, yes, I know that many of these characters resist being a hero, but destiny is destiny, and they are heroes anyway.

Who out there do I consider to be a self-made hero? Captain Malcolm Reynolds is my first choice—even when he resists doing the right thing, he does the right thing because it’s the right thing. Spider-Man—a spider didn’t choose to bite him as his birthright, it bit him at random, and he eventually took responsibility and did the right thing. Steve Rogers—he signed up to be experimented on because it was the one way he could help sock Hitler in the jaw (if he didn’t die from said experiment). What makes these my top three choices is that they’re not exceptional: anybody could be bitten by a bug or volunteer to help your country. And, of course, there’s the blue-collar smuggler. It’s what they chose to do with what they got that made them special.

I think we need more media telling us that we don’t need to inherit fantastical powers or have had long dead men written about our lives to be the hero. That we need to stop letting those who are born with gifts (i.e. exceptional wealth) tell us that only they know how to save the day, because that is decidedly not true.

(On a similar note, is there an IP out there where magic isn’t genetic? This is everywhere, from Harry Potter and The Magicians to the Discworld to Sabrina and Star Wars. It’s in innumerable fantasy and urban fantasies I’ve read over the years. In my experience with magic, it’s a skill anybody can learn if they put the time and effort into it. Is there a movie/TV/book series where this is the case?)

* Put away the lightsabers and blasters, I’m exaggerating. They both have their positives and negatives, and they’re hardly the same thing, so how can you compare them?

Soothing the Savage Beast

Music was once one of the things that mattered to me most in the world. I listened to it full blast, I interpreted it with the pretention of an English professor, I waited breathlessly for album releases that were going to change my life, man, I judged people based on what they listened to, I shared it with anybody who would listen, and, as I got older, I went to innumerable shows in crowded, stinky bars. I, without exaggeration, credit music with saving my life on more than one occasion when I was a teenager.

But now, I really couldn’t care all that much about it. The last new music I bought was two years ago, and it was an album that was fifteen years old at the time. What I predominantly listen to now is the same stuff I listened to when I was in my teens and twenties. I appreciate it, I adore it, but I don’t build as much around it as much as I used to. 

I was thinking of this as I was watching that Hulu show, High Fidelity. Some of the conversations they had made as much sense as me listening to someone talk about computer components or Magic the Gathering cards. It’s the way I’d talk about Doctor Who if people would let me. And I think it’s great. Not the judgment that characters were passing on other characters for what they listened to, but the intensity, the fire. 

I think I lost mine after countless hours in the car with Kate, who was always driving and got to pick the music, most of which I didn’t like. (She did have one song that started an avalanche that greatly expanded my collection, though, and a couple of one-hit wonders I stole from her.) I had to put my hostility away to survive the trips. She was never particularly interested in what I listened to, so I had no one to share my own discoveries with. 

And then there was the spirit-breaking I have gotten working retail. Holy crap, is that some bad music. 

Somewhere along the line, I lost the passion for it. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you have been nodding along, saying, “Yup, that’s what getting older does.” I never lost my passion for comic books or action movies (I have lost it for cartoons, though), so I wonder, why music? Why did that have to shrivel up? It’s not because I’m an adult because I am a terrible adult. 

I’ll never understand it, so I guess I’ll just listen to some more nineties-era grunge, go to work, and tend to my teenager (who has four legs and is covered in fur). 

A Little Positivity, for Once

Lately, I’ve been watching movies starring my early 2000s celebrity crush. Most of her movies are not very good, and I’ve always known they were not very good, so I’d never waste precious minutes on them when I only had a few hours of free time a week. But now that I’ve got all the free time in the world, and my inspiration for my novel is coming at me like it’s trapped in molasses, so this is the perfect opportunity. I’m remembering why I crushed on her in the first place, so if I’m going to look at the bright side of coronavirus, here it is.