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Great Science-Fiction & Fantasy Works • View topic - "Horror" Books (Supernatural)

"Horror" Books (Supernatural)

discussions not about particular authors or books

"Horror" Books (Supernatural)

Postby Estraa on Tuesday, 28 September 2010, 2:59 pm

This thread aims to satisfy a curiosity of possibly general nature: are there any four or five star horror books, apart from those listed (e.g. most of Hodgson), that such trusted sources as Eric or David know of? So far I have mainly used Lovecraft's essay for finding such works, but it is rather old (one hopes the last 70 years have brought something worth reading in the field), it doesn't exactly rate the authors and books it mentions, and I cannot stand Clark Ashton Smith, whom Lovecraft seemed to admire.

Googling for "best horror books" and such terms produces nothing very useful, to my mind at any rate. (Of course, horror literature tends to be the kind where one can't tell from the first half or even two thirds of the book whether it is worth reading. I have always had trouble with such books unless they come highly recommended from trusted sources. Usually I don't read them.)

What I like about Lovecraft is that the stories have no every-day beginnings, they begin with such arresting lines as "I am writing this under an appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I shall be no more" (showing the influence of Edgar Allan Poe), the best of them continue arrestingly through interesting narrative structures with everything told having the sole purpose of preparing the climax, yet they remain realistic and economical even in terms of language (for the most part) until the stupendous climax.
Last edited by Estraa on Wednesday, 29 September 2010, 4:35 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: "Horror" Books

Postby owlcroft on Tuesday, 28 September 2010, 6:43 pm

The best expert I know, as to both knowledge and taste, is Randy Money, who used tio be active on usenet but is nowadays to be found posting as "Randy M" on the SFF World forums. They have a "Fantasy/Horror" board, and it seems to me they recently had a sort of "all-star" list thread. (There is a current thread open, "Randy M's Horror Reads for October 2010".) You might try either posting a query on that thread, or emailing or PMing Randy, who, besides being a horror expert, is also a very nice person.

Ah, here we go: use the Search facility and see what we get:

Looking for Horror recommendation

Looking for 'Fantastic' Horror

And try this post in particular.

Those should be fair starting points.
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Re: "Horror" Books

Postby Estraa on Wednesday, 29 September 2010, 4:35 am

Ah yes, I was looking for supernatural "horror", not gore fiction. Thanks for the forum suggestion, the thread suggestions, and the person suggestion!

Your own list in one of the threads makes me suspect you would include any other such books in your fantasy-sf lists if they merited inclusion. Would you say any of the following stand out as better than the others?

The Girl in a Swing
Other People
The Third Policeman
The Divinity Student / The Golem
The Jonah Watch
Descent Into Hell
The Werewolves of London / The Angel of Pain / The Carnival of Destruction
Something Wicked This Way Comes

From Bradbury, I have tried, somewhat off-topic, the Martian Chronicles, which didn't appeal to me when I sampled it very recently.
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Re: "Horror" Books (Supernatural)

Postby Estraa on Wednesday, 29 September 2010, 6:55 am

From Jonathan Carroll, I just read the first few pages of Bones of the Moon. I may be nitpicky but he is a man, yet in that book he writes as though he were a woman (the narrator is a woman), maybe the feelings-after-abortion scene was genuine anecdote but it seemed fake, maybe some ordinary-seeming women actually like long rambling and very personal letters from men they don't intend to get involved with or from any men at all and respond to such things... Still, all things considered, if that's the best he can do...

And I'm reminded of Lovecraft again, as an example of how honoroble artists would do it. The man knew what he knew and he knew what he didn't know, and only wrote about the things he knew and had a full commitment to as an artist, and you can see from everything he wrote he wrote it as 100% himself he didn't think if I put a girl in and make her say some funny line I get a pass, he didn't pretend to be someone else than he was or that he knew something he didn't know. All his protagonists are basically Lovecraft, like his antagonists are himself or his own fears anyway. If you want to do something as well as possible and as honestly and effectively as you can it's how I would do it. IMHO, the best results in all kinds of literature have been achieved by such writers, everything else reads like it's fake to those who know what they're on about.
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Re: "Horror" Books (Supernatural)

Postby owlcroft on Monday, 04 October 2010, 4:33 am

Your own list in one of the threads makes me suspect you would include any other such books in your fantasy-sf lists if they merited inclusion.
I want to be careful about that. I don't exclude horror fiction because it is in some way "inferior" to other speculative fiction, but rather because I find that most of it has more narrowly focussed purposes: horror fiction is, however simplistic this sounds, dedicated to evoking a sense of horror, whereas speculative fiction more broadly comments or expliactes the human condition in general. On occasion, a book can accomplish both ends satisfactorily, and those are the "horror" books that are included on this site. (Always with the caveat that this is based mainly or wholly on my judgement). But a book focussed chiefly on evoking horror may nevertheless be a literate, well-written work, amd I do not disdain horror.

Would you say any of the following stand out as better than the others?

The Girl in a Swing
Other People
The Third Policeman
The Divinity Student / The Golem
The Jonah Watch
Descent Into Hell
The Werewolves of London / The Angel of Pain / The Carnival of Destruction
Something Wicked This Way Comes

I would not. They are all excellent works, even though each is rather different from all the rest. If someone put a knife to my throat and insisted, I might put The Third Policeman, Descent Into Hell, and the San Veneficio Canon (The Divinity Student / The Golem) a hair ahead of the others, but that's stretching to make nice distinctions. Also, the last pair, the Lydyard series and Something Wicked This Way Comes, are perhaps a half a hair less powerful than the others, but again, that's shaving fine.

Some other horror-type works I'd add to the list above include anything by Robert Aickman (there are numerous short-story collections--regrettably the full "collected" set in two volumes is dazzlingly expensive, but the individual volumes are mostly available at reasoable cost), Joan Aiken's adult horror fantasy (anything by her is good, though the YA novels are less appealing), most or all of Clive Barker, James Blaylock's "California" novels (Night Relics; Winter Tides; The Rainy Season), Jonathan Carroll's work through at least The Panic Hand (the later work is much less of a "horror" nature), maybe Avram Davidson's The Boss in the Wall,Kathryn Davis's Hell (which, despite the title, is only subtly horror), William Hope Hodgson's The House on the Borderland and the Carnacki stories (collected as Carnacki the Ghost-Finder), some of E. T. A. Hoffmann's stories (but you have to pick and choose to find the true "horror" ones), anything by Shirley Jackson (but notably The Haunting of Hill House), Sheridan Le Fanu's works, and most of Arthur Machen's work (though I don't find the "horror" element as prominent as it is usually said to be).

I also continue to maintain that, read properly, Peter Pan is chilling horror, but I may be alone in that view.

There are other candidates, as yet unread by me but coming well-recommended, mixed in with the listing at "More Books" (by authors listed here, and at "Other Candidates", books by authors not yet listed here.
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Re: "Horror" Books (Supernatural)

Postby Estraa on Saturday, 09 October 2010, 5:14 am

Thanks.

owlcroft wrote:
Your own list in one of the threads makes me suspect you would include any other such books in your fantasy-sf lists if they merited inclusion.
I want to be careful about that. I don't exclude horror fiction because it is in some way "inferior" to other speculative fiction, but rather because I find that most of it has more narrowly focussed purposes: horror fiction is, however simplistic this sounds, dedicated to evoking a sense of horror, whereas speculative fiction more broadly comments or expliactes the human condition in general. On occasion, a book can accomplish both ends satisfactorily, and those are the "horror" books that are included on this site. (Always with the caveat that this is based mainly or wholly on my judgement). But a book focussed chiefly on evoking horror may nevertheless be a literate, well-written work, amd I do not disdain horror.

I now recall that you have outlined those exact qualifications before... Personally, I wonder what value such wider commentary on human condition has when it's not either scientifically accurate or religiously inspiring. I doubt it has any value, thus qualified, save as possible entertainment.
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Re: "Horror" Books (Supernatural)

Postby DavidTate on Saturday, 09 October 2010, 11:44 pm

Estraa wrote:Personally, I wonder what value such wider commentary on human condition has when it's not either scientifically accurate or religiously inspiring. I doubt it has any value, thus qualified, save as possible entertainment.
It sounds like we have very different notions of what literature is good for.

For me personally, a book can succeed by being
  • moving
  • funny
  • witty
  • inspiring
  • cathartic
  • exciting
  • intellectually intriguing
  • informative

There may be other modes; those are the ones that occur to me. But for me, only the last three could possibly be accomplished without perceptive "commentary on the human condition", and even pure adventure stories are unlikely to achieve significant excitement without it. Works of horror can certainly aspire to many or all of these modes of pleasure, not merely excitement and catharsis.

It may be that we simply interpreted "commentary on the human condition" differently, but I can't tell.
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Re: "Horror" Books (Supernatural)

Postby Estraa on Sunday, 10 October 2010, 5:27 am

Human condition isn't particularly precise and clear-cut as a term. If it means something else than both the actual relationship of man to nature and other humans, and the actual imagined relationship of an individual, imagined by the individual himself, to society, the universe, and other individuals, and how those two relationships, the real and imagined, interact in the life of any given individual, then it doesn't mean much. Commentary on human condition would mean revealing how humans behave, what they think, why they actually behave or think the way they do as opposed to what their own rationalizations are, what, if anything, in the light of these or other facts, would be a good way to live, and such things, usually ignoring the fact that not everybody is like everybody else.

In any case, if I had to give a reason to explain why I sometimes read fiction, I would say I read it to be entertained. I would say I study science or myself or the behaviour of other people, or I study the world, when I wish to learn.

That's not to say one can't learn anything from fiction. However, sticking to facts isn't much of a concern for fiction writers in general, especially for fantasy writers; there isn't a peer group of experts anywhere who would point out errors of fact in books of fiction; literary critics aren't trained to perceive the difference between profound and relevant commentary on human condition and between superficial and far-fetched commentary on human condition, but the latter type of commentary may be prevalent and may be considered profound and relevant in any given culture, since the values of most people, including critics, come from the surrounding culture and not any objective scale or standard of truth. Even science itself is closer to culture than to ... science. But it's still where I would go first if I were interested in learning about human condition. Genuine diaries and memoirs may be the second-best option, but there are as few guarantees as in fiction that their authors were honest or truly perceptive, and usually no one can tell whether they were or were not.

Fiction, too, should be good for making the reader learn about humans. But fiction, too, is only good for that if the people in the book behave and think in a thoroughly realistic manner, as similar people would behave and think in the real world, or the ideas expressed in it are accurate. A lot of books fail here, without many people realizing that they fail. Reading such books is like getting your facts about humans from Hollywood films; the result is a population who try to navigate the world by using memories and mental images from what are essentially unreal fantasies. One can watch news to see what happens then. A girl causes her friend to become a paralytic by dragging her out of a car wreck like an action hero (because the car's gonna explode!!! and we're all action heroes!!!). Someone is apologetic and needy in his dealings with women, and never finds happiness as a result. The movies and books didn't teach him that women only ever love a warrior; in fact, they taught him the opposite, how could he have suspected they were all wrong?

A useful starting point for evaluating fiction would be: it's not real. If I think I'm learning something when I read a novel, I'm probably deceiving myself, I put the book down for a moment and take a cold shower. In fact, if I don't actively think I'm being deceived while reading fiction, I'm probably being deceived without even being conscious of the deception. The memories remain, and I'm going to use them subconsciously in the real world even though I probably shouldn't do that. If one wanted to be careful, one would use only real-world memories in dealings with the real world.

The thing is, you can judge whether something in a novel is an accurate description of human condition or a profound commentary on it only if you already know at least as much about human condition as is supposedly revealed in the novel you are reading. When you read books of non-fiction, you may sometimes be able to trust that it was written by someone who knew what he was on about, and was critiqued pre-publication by other people who were experts on the subject. You can never trust fiction writers in the same way.

Even false commentary or false behaviour can be valuable in a book, as something more than entertainment, if it makes the reader feel good about himself or inspires him to action or provokes thought. However, making someone feel good about himself, when he has no reason to feel good about himself, only means making him passive when he should be active; inspiring someone to action isn't always such a fantastic thing either (wanting to reach a goal without actually knowing how usually leads to sad failure or pointless waste of time, money and energy); and provoking someone into thought isn't necessarily useful either, could even be harmful under certain circumstances.

P.S. Lovecraft is both scientifically accurate (the universe is malevolent if anything in its relationship to humans) and religiously inspiring (all that Cthulhu fiction it has inspired, as few other writers in history). But we're all just trying to rationalize our personal likes and dislikes, aren't we?
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Re: "Horror" Books (Supernatural)

Postby Terry Tornado on Sunday, 10 October 2010, 9:19 pm

I started to compose a reply to Estraa, which was based on the fact that he was apparently confusing truth with fact. To argue that The Iliad, for example, had nothing to say about the human condition just because the characters "don't behave and think in a thoroughly realistic manner" is, in my opinion, just irritating and pointless. Then I saw at the end his comment that Lovecraft is scientifically accurate, and I realized the whole post was an elaborate joke.
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Re: "Horror" Books (Supernatural)

Postby Estraa on Monday, 11 October 2010, 4:21 am

What I find counterproductive is the claim, somewhere on this site, that all the hundreds of books here are worth something already based on their relatively wide commentary on human condition. It wasn't phrased like that and maybe I'm just ranting here but ... what if 95% of those books are actually full of rubbish, as far as any commentary on human condition is concerned? How would you know? Wouldn't you have to understand human condition before reading those books, in order to be able to judge such a thing? And what good such commentary to you if you already know enough to know that it is accurate? Why are you not addressing this question (the main conclusion of the argument I made)?

I never wrote a novel can't have anything to say about human condition if the characters aren't 100% realistic. I did write that unless what it says is accurate, then obviously it's worthless as a treatise on humans, unless the characters behave in a fully realistic manner, in which case the reader would have to know enough to ignore the rest of the book (and there are books where the author does nothing but show characters doing things). The reason why I insist on full realism, is ... who can tell the errors from the facts? (By "facts" I mean, among other things, episodes of realistic character behaviour in a novel.) In determining whether character behaviour is realistic, one only has his own experiences to consult, to compare it with. The same applies to judging the believability of motives. Therefore, novels can teach us nothing new about human behaviour or motives.

As for other kinds of fact, humans usually rely on authority in order to determine whether some claim of general applicability is "true" or not. These are the types of claim that go beyond the personal experience of any one individual, claims such as "all humans are mortal". (Earlier humans didn't have good statistics on that, and, I suppose, as a consequence believed all sorts of things.) I would suggest a tentative, conservative estimate 99.999% of humans being completely incapable of judging new claims about something outside of their sphere of experience, whether generalizations or specific statements of supposed fact, to be either fact or fiction. "Truth" is almost the same as "trust": every group has its own authority figure they trust to tell them the facts about something beyond their everyday life. Maybe some people have fiction writers for the purpose, but I repeat the inadvisability of that. (This isn't to say such a human being wouldn't be able tell the difference between a correct and an incorrect statement, howsoever unheard-of, if he could correlate all of the even remotely relevant contents of his mind, and scrap the stuff that doesn't fit; but only some few geniuses can do something of the sort, to see connections where most people see headache.)

The more a writer mixes fact with error, the more difficulty his readers will have in telling what is what. The facts among the errors don't increase the value of the novel, they only make the novel more dangerous to read, assuming you don't read it with the understanding that it's complete fiction. Just consider any autobiographical novel. Some of the imagined parts may be realistic, but then again some of them may be unrealistic, and if you make a decision in real life based on one of those unrealistic parts, then you're probably going to fail in something, hopefully not too hard unlike in the two examples (actually happened, probably countless of times) I mentioned in the last message.

As for Lovecraft's scientific accuracy... It is accurate in its message: there is no reason to assume that if the universe contains life much superior to human life this life will be anything but malevolent, from our perspective the same way we are malevolent from the perspective of ants. In any case, the universe is malevolent if anything, probably it is not anything, but it should be considered malevolent if we start to imagine things and want to keep as close to facts as possible. Humans lose things, age and die; nothing is as permanent as death. Lovecraft was the only writer in his time to take the implications of atheism, Darwinism, and general relativity seriously, and draw them to their logical conclusions in his fiction: pure human horror at the malignant chaos of the universe. He was too honest to offer you comforting illusions in exchange for your money, which he was never after even when dirt poor, malnourished, and living in his aunt's basement before he died of cancer at 47 and became a cult figure, then a recognized genius who had recited poetry when he was two and written it when he was four, and had casually written things like this (from one of the 100,000+ letters he wrote during his short life). You should give the man some credit.

To think that "tales of ordinary feelings and events, or of common sentimental distortions of such feelings and events" (Lovecraft), when such tales begin to count in the thousands or millions throughout history, are something valuable even in literary terms, merely because of their ideological content (as opposed to aesthetic content), is to be irrationally biased. To be biased in such an irrational manner is of course part of human condition for most humans, and this revelation, which comes without any expectation of payment or further investment of your time dear reader, may be annoying, but is nevertheless true. (And it doesn't help if the city in the story is called Clarges and is situated on an imaginary planet; or if the mean man is a troll and not a man according to the narrator; an ordinary event is ordinary, and the same goes for feelings.)

P.S. The focus of this site is so obviously, and appropriately, on the entertainment value of books of fiction (the aesthetic value, if you will), that such pretension seems doubly pointless.

P.P.S. All of the above mostly ignores the potential of fiction to be used as a sort of mirror by the reader, so that some unconscious things come to surface and he can analyze them. Think of not being able to see your face without a mirror... This may be the only significant extra-aesthetic function that (some) fiction has to a degree worth mentioning. You read a story and think you are spending time with lovable characters but actually are spending time with your own memories in possibly new combinations that give the illusion of foreigness. (What? Have I written all of the preceding paragraphs in vain?)
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Re: "Horror" Books (Supernatural)

Postby DavidTate on Monday, 11 October 2010, 7:42 pm

Therefore, novels can teach us nothing new about human behaviour or motives.

This sounds a lot like the claim that mathematics can't ever discover anything new, because all of the theorems are already implicit in the axioms. True, but it misses the point.

To pick one easy example, a novel might show me a way in which well-known human motives and behaviors, in ordinary doses, can lead to situations that I would never have thought of, and that are emotionally powerful in one or more dimensions.

...but I think that still misses the point, because the purpose of "commentary on the human condition" is not purely informative. As you note, it's also entertainment, in all its various forms and levels from 'fun' up through 'rapture'. Eric, as I understand his position, is making the claim that the more advanced forms of entertainment require nontrivial and insightful commentary on the human condition. It's a provocative position, and certainly one that could be argued against -- but it's nothing much to do with discovering psychological facts.

(Eric, as always, is free to repudiate my attempted summaries of his position.)
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Re: "Horror" Books (Supernatural)

Postby Estraa on Tuesday, 12 October 2010, 4:42 am

I doubt I would be persuaded anyway, so I'm basically just offering a new point of view on the matter. Maybe it's not even new, since Cervantes wrote a book about the perils of taking books too seriously (namely, Don Quixote). Reading books and then trying to be virtuous as a knight, especially in this day and age, would equal social suicide, at least if one knew anything about the world beyond the popular delusions and wished to share his thoughts or act in accordance with his own morality. Humans are social animals who come to their conclusions and beliefs primarily through social processes, not through rational processes. That's why I'm squarely with Harold Bloom on this issue. Nothing good can come from taking books too seriously, the correct way to read them is aesthetically. You can see, in today's English departments, what happens when people begin to expect books to serve some other function than entertainment.

I can see the cynical practicality of telling people they will learn from these books when you wish to promote said books, but I think the whole idea that one can learn something useful from books is the problem to begin with. It's the world you can learn something from. Only a drowning minority of people can truly learn truths that go beyond their sphere of personal experience; the rest adopt the beliefs of the surrounding culture or sub-culture. Unless they are taught to read books as pure entertainment; reading a book, the latter will only look for confirmations of their own world-view, and if the book is so radically opposed to their world-view that they can't find any straight affirmation of said world-view in it, they'll put it down, as a general rule.
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Re: "Horror" Books (Supernatural)

Postby owlcroft on Sunday, 17 October 2010, 6:55 pm

First, as to David's observations on my views: the more advanced forms of entertainment require nontrivial and insightful commentary on the human condition. That is fairly close to it. What I think literature (as opposed to, say, painting) requires is that it place demands on the reader's intellect--else it is, in effect, chewing gum for the mind. I have discoursed on the issue at some length elsewhere on this site, in one of the "Musings", #3, "Great Novels".

Estraa's position on "the human condition" strikes me as somewhat circular: it posits that you cannot learn anything about a subject unless you already know much or all about that subject. (What if 95% of those books are actually full of rubbish, as far as any commentary on human condition is concerned? How would you know? Wouldn't you have to understand human condition before reading those books, in order to be able to judge such a thing?) Obviously, were that so, none of us could ever know anything about anything.

A superficial glance at such material as the Wikipedia article on "the human condition" suggests that most definitions tend to the tautologically obvious. For literary purposes, I suppose (speaking offhand here) that we can say that exploring the human condition means examining the variety of thoughts and feelings humans can experience, so that the constituents of that variety can be grist for our personal mental mills to grind into a philosophy of life.

That is a longer way of saying what countless many have said of fiction: it is a way of living far more lives than one lifetime allows any one person to live. Through fiction, we can experience, if vicariously, the thoughts and emotions of literally thousands of others each with a background, sensibilities, and wit very different from our own, and most in stressful, defining circumstances we likely will never encounter. Such vicarious expansion of one's life experiences can--depending on the wit of the reader and the craft of the author--greatly expand one's ability to contemplate one's own condition, one's own "place in the universe" as Wikipedia puts it.

Obviously, the relevance of a given work depends, as noted, on the craft of the author, a two-pronged requirement: that author must have sensibilities and wits sufficient to understand and feel the thoughts and emotions of others, and must then have the ability to convincingly portray those things in crdeible, persuasive prose. The magnitude of those twin requirements is why good writing and good writers are scarce.

How do we judge whether a given author and work credibly portray persons and circumstances different from those we ourselves have known? That it is not "full of rubbish, as far as any commentary on human condition is concerned?" We do it in the same way we learn most skills: incrementally. Starting as children, we begin to absorb such alien viewpoints, starting with those that aren't very alien; we test credibility by cross-checking, by perceiving how what this author and work tells us compares to what others have told us. There is always some overlap--we are dealing with folk who are different from us, but still human, which guarantees some commonality of perception--and then we see whether what is unique to a given work, what stretches beyond that overlap, seems credible in light of what else we have learned about Life, The Universe, and Everything.
Cordially,
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Re: "Horror" Books (Supernatural)

Postby Terry Tornado on Sunday, 17 October 2010, 8:13 pm

Books are written by human beings, about human beings, and to be read by human beings. It is impossible to write a book without confronting the human condition. More even than ink and paper, a writer's greatest tool is the human condition. The greatest writers are those who can surpass their artistic shortcomings or the literary conventions in which they work and speak to us directly in their own voice. When a writer achieves this it is inevitable that his work will illuminate the human condition. In the most general sense that is exactly what his work is intended to do. The greatest books are those that speak most directly to the human condition, and in so far as any work does not do so it is an artistic faiulure.
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Re: "Horror" Books (Supernatural)

Postby Estraa on Monday, 18 October 2010, 10:05 am

What I claim is by no means circular. If someone writes that humans are "rational animals", I won't check the accuracy of the statement by reading other books and listening to other opinions. Instead, I check the accuracy by living my life and seeing where the assumption that humans are rational leads me. If it leads me to a lonely place exiled into a mountain cave, I must conclude that either I was not a rational animal, or humans were not. Or as Bertrand Russell put it, "It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this."

Books can give clues, perhaps, but also false clues. They can record the personal experiences of the writer, but such records must be honest and reasonably accurate. None of us men really know what a woman character would think in the privacy of her own mind, or even what she might think. Pretending that we do is dishonest.

I'll quote M John Harrison about his method, since I respect him as a thinker, which is to say I respect him as a writer:

I’ve always hoped to produce characters, but without “characterising” them, ie ticking the boxes of a pre-planned trait paradigm. I never ask, “Would X or Y do this ? Is in in their ‘character’?” because that is a fatuous question, appropriate only to Agatha Christie readers & Hollywood scriptwriters. Instead I encourage them to do actions. In the case of “realistic” characters, those actions are based on real-world events & exchanges from my notebooks; but these real events are bolted on to one another intuitively--the logic of them is poetic & emotional. I have a compulsive interest in certain real-world people--key figures in periods of my life--which returns in characters like Choe Ashton, the Sprakes & Anna Kearney.

In the case of non-mimetic characters, I let my intuition range broadly. I have no idea how a completely invented “person” in a “world” like Viriconium might be expected to “think or “feel”; what their “motives” might be: because I cannot see into their world. But they can do actions. In real life, when we interpret “character”, all we do is assemble peoples’ actions into a story that suits our own motives--motives which, if you pay attention to Thomas Metzinger & others, simply don’t exist except as hindsight rationales for biologically determined behaviour of our own. I think one of the big indicators of difference between JRR Tolkien & Mervyn Peake is that Peake had some innate understanding of that. All of Tolkien’s characters are driven by the big predictable Western trait paradigms, derived & filled from two or three thousand years of naturalised ideology. Peake’s characters are closer to being fallen. They’re macabre, complex, self-contradictory, self-defeating, like people in the spoiled, unsimplified world.

Some of my livelier characters are made by compiling real-world observations of “disordered” behaviour along what you might call a political axis. Much of the “characterisation” in the Viriconium stories, for instance, came from not being able to see the difference between the individual rituals devised by “insane” people & the cultural rituals supported as focal behaviour by whole societies. Most ritual is completely barking. Thus, to a degree (other things were being done too), Mammy Vooley’s court, where ritual is exactly the same kind of political glue as you saw in Edwardian England. Rituals are like hats; you only have to blink a couple of times to realise that all hats--secular, religious, “practical”, whatever--are barking mad. There is no such thing as a sane hat.

Other characters are parodic or metafictional--they’re assembled for purposes of literary comment. But I guess whether they’re metafictional, mimetic or surreal, they’re always anchored by those Heideggeran/phenomenological concerns to do with “being there” or not.

I love being here, wherever that is.


Anyway. In real science, books and theories are always secondary to experimental findings. In the same way, fiction is always secondary to non-mediated experience. The relationship is exactly the same. Just as theories can distort experiments and experiment planning, bookish ideas and memories of character-behaviour can distort our interpretations of our experiences, or distort our planning. Think of all those poor women fallen victim to men-hating feminism. Lectures, novels, it's all the same. They were not betrayed by the world, not by men; they were betrayed by the spoken and written word. If only I were a chief lecturer in Women's Studies at Planet Earth University. I would be personal. "Don't trust books and lectures, instead trust the world, bitch. Trust your own instincts."

There is no knowledge without non-mediated experience. Theory is nothing without experiment. And most people weren't meant to be scientists. Giving them ideas is like giving guns to kids.

...which leads me to the whole different subject of whether knowledge is good in the first place; or rather, what kinds of knowledge are good, when, where, to whom, to what extent, in what sense. Which trees carry the forbidden fruit? Are some people more susceptible to it than others?

Suddenly the whole thing becomes an ocean-deep so bottomless that one must become an aesthete to read books; else one would spend his days diving until the end of days, and never reach the bottom of it.
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