There is nothing wrong with reading something that is predictable, trite, the average fare, boy meets girl, boy hates girl, girl hates boy, boy argues with girl over a foolish misunderstanding, boy goes and does something foolish, girl realises she doesn’t exactly hate boy, boy realises he doesn’t exactly hate girl, boy and girl save world from foul tentacled monster and in the process both realise the other doesn’t exactly hate them. Some spectacular misunderstanding ensue’s. Boy or girl discovers the one person other than the boy or girl they trusted most was actually the master mind who summoned the foul tentacled monster in the first place. Girl or boy comes to the rescue ninth nick of time. Boy and girl discover they really really don’t hate each other, and go on to not hate each other as much as possible (until the sequel when due to a misunderstanding they have a bit of a falling out and oh look there is another tentacled monster and this one has wings…)
Nope there is nothing at all wrong with reading something predictable, trite, of average fare, with the usual boy , girl, tentacled monster plot lines. Except, it’s not exactly that deep, and if every story is the same then even tentacled monsters get dull after a while. Sometimes, just once in a while, what you want is something from further afield… Something a little left field perhaps… Or perhaps, if all truths be told, something from a field so far to the left of the usual pastures that your not entirely sure what crops are growing in its and with beasts that wander there that are a little on the odd side even viewed from a distance… Which is why I love speculative fiction in the truest sense… Fiction that says ‘What if?’ and then adds ‘and what if?’ and then adds another couple of ‘what ifs?’ for good measure and then just starts running off in a strange direction all of its own.
So, ‘what if’ you tell a story from the perspective of the last zombie wandering the earth long after the end of the ‘human’ world? What if the mythical creatures and being of Japanese folklore were real and with humanities end they had returned from the dark places that lurk beyond the edge of humanities collective consciousness? What if this last zombie stumbling through the post-apocalypse world with little that could be considered to be conscious thought, just an implicit drive to keep moving, stumbled across another zombie? What is that second zombie is a little girl, or what was left of a little girl, chained up in a barn by her long dead parents and forgotten about by the world until the this other zombie stumbles across the barn and without knowing quite why unchains her?
What if all of that? What then? What, not to put too fine a point on it, happens next?
As writers we often indulge in ‘What if?’ even if we are only speculation about a boy and a girl who meet each other, decide to hate each other, then eventually realise they don’t actually exactly hate each other after they defeat a tentacle monster summoning evil mastermind… But if that’s the only ‘What if?’ we come up with then we risk being trite, predictable and frankly, the worst sin of all, boring our readers. This is one of the reasons as a writer I try to avoid the trite and predictable, and as a reader I tend to look a little further afield than the shelves of Tesco’s or Waterstone’s top one hundred… Indie writers tend to play the ‘What if?’ game with a tad more bravery than big publishing house commissioning editors do and I would like to think none of my books fall into the ‘trite predictable’ category. But having said that, while I try to produce something a little different, it has never occurred to me to write a post-apocalyptic odyssey who’s lead characters are a zombie called Christopher, who stumbles across a zombie girl called Emi in a post human landscape populated by creatures form Japanese mythology… But hell I wish it had, because as a concept its speculative ‘what if?’ gold dust. Though if I had I doubt I could have done the concept justice, and frankly its too late now, because one of my favourite speculative fiction writers already has.
Craig Hallam is one of those rare writers who takes a ‘what if’ and doesn’t just go to town with it but produces something more than the sum of its collective, admittedly odd, parts.
On one level Emi is a simply product of a chain of ‘what if’s’. Japanese mythology, a world post humanity and a couple of zombies one of which happens to be a little girl wandering somewhat aimlessly through this world.
On another it’s a study of what it means to be human, looked at through the perspective of something that used to be human but is now something else. It has layers, it builds on those layers, and then it builds on those layers. As one zombie slowly finds its lost humanity and the other moves further away from it. It’s sorrowful and melancholy but never it a way that mires the reader in that sorrow. It is full of shades, the ghosts of humanity, seen from the other side.
I don’t know if it is profound, perhaps the most profound thing about it is that it feels profound without trying too hard to be so. But then what the reader takes from the tale is I suspect a mirror of what the reader starts to look for within it. To be fair this could often be said to be the case with a great many writers, and I can’t speak for Mr Hallam’s intentions beyond exploring a strange ‘what if’ for all it is worth. Craig however manages the neat trick of inviting the reader to think about what they are reading while never forcing them to do so. It may well be that he set out to merely write an entertaining oddity, without trying to ‘say something profound’ which if that is the case, is probably why he has succeeded in doing both.
There is beauty here, the beauty of storytelling which can be more than it sets out to be, if only because what each reader takes from it will be different… But what every reader will take from this is at the very least a smile and a few hours of joyful indulgence in a glorious ‘what if’ unlike any other ‘what if’ they have ever read before.
Anyway, read a little of it for yourself… Then if your draw into it read some more. Me I am off to write some trite predictable stuff about boy meets girl fights tentacled monster and discovers they don’t exactly hate each other after all… From the perspective of the tentacled monster which is clearly actually an incarnation of Cupid… As that is the only explanation for why fighting the beast always leads to people not actually hating each other really quite a lot…
Pingback: A look back at Indie April | The Passing Place