>> Wednesday, July 21, 2010
As I have the majority of the JD Robb "In Death" books on my e-reader (and I'm a fan), I've been reading through the series recently, even though it's not a genre I read frequently. I love the characters, particularly all the characters, even Eve, though Eve least of all. I could explain why, but that's not what I'm here to talk about.
What I wanted to talk about was violence and morality. When reading Divided in Death (potential spoilers if you were wanting to read it but haven't), there's a conflict between Eve (the main protagonist, homicide detective) and Roarke (one of the most appealing - if improbable - characters ever written), where Roarke discovers that federal agents were listening in when Eve's father raped and beat her repeatedly, even listened in when she killed him in self defense (at the age of eight) and did nothing to help. Roarke would like to slow roast said agents over a slow fire. Eve is absolutely aghast that, though she knows he's killed in cold blood before, he would murder people again.
Now, there's a whole blog post about what is and isn't justifiable with regards to killing someone. And Eve definitely knows this because she's got nearly half a dozen under her own belt and they generally don't bother her much. I'll probably get to where I discuss that, too, but that's not what I want to talk about either.
What I want to discuss (because it's what I was thinking about as I was reading this particular installment) was if there really were "fates worse than death." Now don't get me wrong, I'm against murder (in general). I think death is heart-rending when someone with a full life ahead of them is cut short or when the death is needlessly painful, humiliating or lingering.
But death itself doesn't scare me much. I also don't feel too terribly bad if people who do horrible things, who promote or ignore horrors done by others drop dead. I've never pretended to be anything other than pro-capital punishment not because I'm convinced that it will stop the next fellow, but I know for a fact it will stop the first one. Can't escape from or get paroled from death.
I'm not a proponent for torture or painful deaths (though I can appreciate where those would be justice) mostly because that kind of thing can readily be taken too far. I'm satisfied that someone who has done something truly heinous won't be doing it again.
What does this have to do with fiction?
Well, because my attitude is part and parcel of my fiction. I write a great deal of fantasy/science fiction and I won't lie. It's violent. Many people are killed outright, yes, by my protagonists, and it doesn't bother me in the slightest, even though there are lines my characters won't cross. They tend to be pragmatic about death and, though part of the reason has to do with the environments I make for them, part of it is a direct reflection of my own pragmatism. In many ways, I have a very Eastern view of death.
But, for good guys to wander about fantasyland with a trail of corpses, I have to believe there are crimes that are more heinous than killing someone outright, or I'd have nothing but victims and bad guys. I do and it's reflected in my novels.
Rape, for instance. I've mentioned before that, while I can think of half a dozen perfectly legitimate reasons for killing someone (and a few that aren't as legitimate but frequently used), I can't think of a single excuse for rape. Nor, if given a choice, would I choose rape over death (bearing in mind that death doesn't scare me). I figure, if he'd kill me before, chances are he was going to kill me anyway - might as well save myself an unpleasant experience.
Causing pain for enjoyment or expedience or callousness, also, in my opinion, worse than killing someone outright. I'm not talking about sending your kid to bed without dinner, but there are many torments out there, physical and mental, where killing would be far more humane.
People who traffic in people also get the "worse than murderers" badge pinned. Slavers, like rapists, largely don't live to the end of the book and that's a conscious choice on my part.
And, admittedly, it makes a difference to me why someone kills another and how. You kill people by burning them at the stake or bottoms up impalement - no way to make you the good guy. You kill innocent people either because of "what" they are (rather than what they've done) or because you can, especially children, I'm going to think you're scum. Which just goes to show I'll have to talk about what I consider "justifiable" another time.
But, the reason I write that way is because I truly believe some fates are worse than death, that someone could kill another human being and be a good person but that are some things people couldn't do and retain their humanity. Do you write characters with the same viewpoint you have? Or does it change with the circumstances or the venue? What are your thoughts on violence and how are they reflected in what you write?