Paranormal vs. Fantasy/Science Fiction

>> Sunday, September 4, 2011

I was reading a series of books a friend recommended to me, quite a successful series I believe, the Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton that should have been right up my alley. Some attempts at humor, generally kickass heroine who is center stage, weird happenings everywhere.

Except I didn't. Nothing wrong with those that like it. We can't all like the same things. There were a few reasons for this for me, and I can go into them, but I'm not sure they're all important. What I noted after reading the first book was that I only liked one character, Jean-Claude (because apparently becoming a vampire negates the necessity of a last name), a vampire Anita threatened to kill a few times and who was in, what, fifty pages of the book? I liked him well enough to try a second book, but kept running into the same issue (and a few new ones). I just didn't like the main character. There were a few reasons for this, too, like hypocrisy and doing idiotic things, being blase about killing her "friends" one minute and willing to die for them the next, etc. But I could have forgiven all of that if I had liked the essential her. And I figured out why: to her, what you are is more important than who.

One reason I generally haven't been part of the recent vampire fetish (Twilight doesn't count - they're nothing like vampires and besides, that's not why I liked it) is because I never understood the big deal with vampires. They've never seemed inherently interesting. Having a story centered around vampires, to my way of thinking, isn't any different in concept from having a story centered around Elves in Middle Earth or lizardians on Seti Omega Nine. They're all stories about people, whether gifted or scaly or sparkly or what-have-you. The rules and priorities change, depending on specific needs, but the story about people inherently is the same. That's how it is to me, because I was raised on Science Fiction and Fantasy, on the original Star Trek, on Heinlein. In Fantasy/Science Fiction, who you are always outranked what you were. It was one way you had to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Bad guys were all concerned with the color of your skin, whether you had hair or feathers, which end you broke on your boiled egg. Good guys either knew better or learned better over the course of the story.

What seems to be going on in paranormal is an entirely different thing, where being some sort of something different inherently makes one evil. True, you might fight your evil side and, if you can fight it indefinitely, you could be accepted as redeemed by normal people, but you don't get the benefit of the doubt. You're evil until proven otherwise. And there are no limits to the level or extent of evil you are as something "other," it comes with the extra powers like a promotional extra. So, if you're a protagonist who happens to be something other, you have to indefinitely fight the inherent evil in you. If you're not an "other," you can kill all the others you like to your hearts content, 'cause, hey, they're evil.

To me that's a throwback to the "The only good Injun is a dead Injun," and "Only good Jew is a dead Jew," kind of thinking I've always abhorred. And, truthfully, thought we were finally outgrowing. Pity.

I have a problem with that kind of thinking. I don't think anything is inherently evil (or, for that matter, inherently good). I think how someone is treated should a direct result of what they do and who they are, not what they happen to be (unless that's something like a serial rapist). In my books, that notion is a recurring theme, the basis for how my characters interact and grow. I had started to worry that the notion was outdated, that I'd be preaching to the choir.

Apparently not.

Guess I don't write paranormal after all.


  • Project Savior

    I totally agree with you. I absolutely hate books where the evil guy is evil, because he's evil.
    The only thing I like about those types of stories is the fun that can be had changing the roles around. Like having the man-eating plant turn out to have a "Heart" of gold.
    It is so much more satisfying to have the Monsters turn out to have totally different goals than their stereotypes suggest they should have.

  • Stephanie Barr

    I completely agree with you. Turning stereotypes on their heads is one of my all-time favorite things to do.


  • Jeff King

    I think vampires are portrayed or perceived as evil, is because they suck blood. I prefer vampires that are “killing machines” rather than “love machines” now I am not saying they are evil, just that they have an evil aura. If prefer to have real character regardless of the species they are, if they are evil: then so be it, but the characteristics are unique to each character… not classification or stereotype.

    Great post I am glad you’re posting again, thx for what you do!

  • Shakespeare

    You might want to try McKinley's SUNSHINE. It makes the same point you do, but also has a vampire in it.

    Another book/series that rocks preconceived notions about evil is Claire B. Dunkle's Hollow Kingdom Trilogy.

    I am not a real vampire fan, but more than anything else, I'm not exactly a fan of paranormal (or fantasy) for its own sake. I want what happens to have meaning, and, at least for me, a bunch of killing does not guarantee meaning. I'll never be a fan of thrillers, so action by itself will never draw me in. The only thrillers I can say I actually loved were Dan Brown's two books. And they were saying something more.

    This reminds me of a trilogy about girls in a private school. Oh, I can't even remember the titles... and though I read through the whole series, I was troubled throughout because the girls were so vapid.

  • Julius Cicero

    I read about you on Jeff King's page, so I'm your latest follower. I am a sci-fi fan, and I'm totally with you on the WHO rather than the WHAT. Otherwise it's so cliche and predictable.

  • Stephanie Barr

    Shakespeare, a great deal of (the best) Science Fiction and Fantasy does that. It's one reason why, though I read other genres quite frequently, I never lose my love for it.

    Thank you, Julius Cicero. Agreed. I personally like to turn a lot of stereotypes and preconceived notions on their heads. That's what prompted me to write my first fantasy story (then novel). It's a huge incentive (plus the humor potential) for the novel I'm writing now.

  • Relax Max

    Are vampires considered paranormal? I always think of paranormal as haunted houses and poltergeists. I suppose they are though.

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