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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Author Guest Post: Please Welcome Nicholas Carter!

Remember how I read and loved Jam Don't Shake? Well, Nicholas Carter, the author, has graciously agreed to be a guest poster here on WBiT! Prepare to be dazzled, and please join me in welcoming Nicholas today!

It’s been years since I was afraid of that unknowable horror that lurked beneath the bed, just waiting to reach up and tear away my arm if I happened to dangle it over the side for even an instant. I’m a modestly well-adjusted adult now; thirty-one years old with a wife and (soon) a job and all of my fingers. I’d like to think that pretty much covers where society is these days.

We’ve grown up: we’re no longer afraid of things with fangs and claws because we’ve done a good job of pushing those things outside of our sphere of influence. Nowadays when you see something capable of crushing your larynx in its jaws or disemboweling you with the swipe of a paw, odds are good that that creature is trapped in a zoo or, more likely, a photograph. The real monsters are all gone. Oh, we’ve come up with some pretty nifty ones over the years, like creatures with acid for blood that want to have sex with our faces, but for the most part, creature-based fear is a thing of the past. Many of the monsters in our movies are now just things for a protagonist to kill in entertaining ways.

I think we’re a few tentative steps into a paradigm shift. Over the past few
decades many of our monsters are (or were) human. Bad guys like Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger, or Friday the 13th hockey enthusiast Jason Voorhees, are both people over whom we layered The Beast. There’s a sort of subconscious acknowledgement that those things we used to fear in the jungles and plains aren’t really what we’re afraid of anymore, but it’s like we weren’t sure what to replace them with so we merely added the savage aspect of those old fears to a humanoid shape and called it a day.

Now, I’m not going all in on the “we are the true monsters” schtick. Often when that gets used it’s packaged with a lot of finger-pointing. The truth is though that we’ve moved away from the capriciousness of nature and her many beasts, and into a world where it feels like we’re inadvertently trying to kill us. So many of our environmental dangers come from one another these days. You don’t take candy from the guy with the big van and the bigger mustache. You don’t cross the road at the corner of Oak and Main because people drive like maniacs at that intersection. And you don’t let Andy give the presentation, because he’s gunning for that promotion you deserve. Screw you, Andy.

Let me reiterate that I’m not pointing the finger: there’s no moral here. I’m not saying that there is a defect in the human condition that causes us to be harmful to one another and that this is something we have to work hard to vanquish, which is a pretty pretentious theme. It suggests that individuals are all flawed variants on some platonic ideal, and that if we all pitched in and came together all the shadows would vanish from under the metaphorical bed. Instead, I’d put forth that a human being is a perfect, crystallized ornament of odd that occasionally crashes into the others hanging by it, and that the occasional shattering of such an ornament is as dazzling as it is terrifying.

We’re a social creature that is simultaneously its own biggest predator, and the chaos this causes is absolutely breathtaking. But even that isn’t entirely new. Stories of man’s hubris in tinkering with nature have been around for nearly two centuries now, taking root most evidently in science fiction. We’re starting to move past even that, however. New technology always has a bogeyman period, but we’ve integrated so much technology that much of its danger has become a low-level, background hum, or disappeared entirely. Our neuroses, foibles, quirks, traits and idiosyncrasies though, those seem to be getting a lot of attention these days. There’s this anxiety about what’s wrong with us individually, and we’ve turned the focus on our own internal monsters rather than any external environmental danger. Stories about people going to psychiatrists and fixing these troubles aren’t necessarily interesting though, which makes it necessary (and fun) for fiction to incarnate them. I don’t care if Andy McTagonist gets over the smoking habit that’s causing a rift between him and his wife. I would find it interesting if a barrel-bodied creature made of roiling red and black ash, its smog-spewing mouth crowned by a line of slim, cylindrical teeth all stained grayish brown, attacks him on his way home.

Apropos of nothing, one of the biggest compliments I ever received on a story was that there was “so much going wrong that a reader can’t possibly think of a way to make it right.” I love stories where everything is in such chaos that only a pyrrhic or small personal victory is possible. It probably shows.

Apparently this post was inspired by the review of Jam Don't Shake that I posted here on WBiT- I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did and thanks again to Nicholas for stopping by!  As an unrelated aside, there are only a few more days until the Snowed In With Indie Authors Review and Giveaway Festival, so strap in for the awesomeness that's in store!
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