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Tragedy as Comfort Fiction: On Death, Drama, Disaster & Saving the World

In 2006, I woke up in the ICU, blood pouring down one arm from a line the doctor was desperately trying to get in my arm. He was down on one knee, like he was going to propose, my arm flung out in front of him.

"I'm sorry," he said, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

He kept saying it. Over and over. My girlfriend stood next to me, gripping my hand. I was in intense pain, but even so, couldn't understand why he kept apologizing. My brain was a muddled gray mush, but I understood this much:

The pain was necessary. Expected.

They needed to get a line in me, you see, because I was dying.

And I knew it.

#

I read a lot of dark books. I'm a fan of the weird, the creepy, the strange. I have a fondness for Jeff VanderMeer and KJ Bishop and Angela Carter. I read Lovecraft only until it started to give me active nightmares. I've read everything by Christopher Priest, including the certainly not at all upbeat Fugue for a Darkening Island. I devoured Melvin Burgess's Bloodtide and Bloodsong like milky honey.

As a teen, I had people try and get me to read Terry Pratchett and Piers Anthony, but it just never took. I was getting something out of dark fiction, some catharsis, that I wasn't getting from other books with lots of laughs or tidy, upbeat endings.

How can you read all that stuff? People would ask me.

Life is fucking depressing enough.

But that was why I read it.

#

When I get laid off from my job in Chicago, six months after the ICU trip, I don't have any savings. No safety net. Because of U.S. health insurance laws at the time, I have to continue paying for health insurance or risk becoming uninsurable even under an employer plan. Health insurance costs me $800 a month and doesn't actually pay for a dime of the $500 a month that my new medication costs.

Chronic illness is like getting hammered upside the head with a shovel. They tell me it's an immune disorder, and there's nothing I could have done to prevent it. So sorry for you. Too bad. Could be worse. There are worse illnesses.

But now it costs me $500 a month in meds just to keep on living. Plus the $800 for the useless insurance. Plus $550 a month in rent. I'm making $320 a week in unemployment. And I've still got thousands in medical debt from the ICU visit.

In the comments of a recent Guardian article I'm quoted in, somebody tells me I'm bad at math.

Yeah, well. I was good enough then to know this wasn't going to work.

Death had never felt so close.

#

Life is dark, sometimes.

The trouble is, when you're pressed face-first into shit, all you can think about is trying to stay alive. It's all you do, when you're really desperate - you try and live. There's no time to emote, no time to figure it out, no time to sit on the bed and cry and feel sorry for yourself. When you're faced with your own problems, real, tangible I-could-fucking-die problems, you have to deal with them.

But a fictional problem?

Somebody else is dealing with that. You're just along for the ride.

It means you get to spend the whole ride actually feeling things, instead of buttoning it all back up so you can live.

This is the story of my life: getting called a monster because I do instead of feel, because I act instead of emote.

#

My week back at the house after the ICU visit, I saw blood every time I closed my eyes. My arms were filled with needle marks, covered in bruises. The pain was so bad, and I was so weak, I couldn't even prepare my own meals - I didn't have the strength to wield a knife.

I'd lost a tremendous amount of weight the last year, and more in the ICU. It was like I lived in someone else's body. I felt disconnected.

At night, I'd lie in bed, and when I closed my eyes I'd jerk awake again, haunted by sounds and smells and that blood, that blood gushing from my arm, pooling on the floor. I could smell the hospital antiseptic.

My week in the hospital, I was hooked up with a catheter. They stuck me with needles every three hours, and took blood four times a day. My period started. The catheter leaked. I got thrush, and couldn't eat, couldn't swallow. I spent a day lying in my own blood and urine. At one point an orderly threw a wet towel at me and told me to wash myself.

The memories of that horrible week came back every time I closed my eyes.

But I couldn't process what had happened to me, or how my life had changed now that I was totally reliant on medication for the rest of my life. I had thousands of dollars in medical bills. Rent had to be paid. I had to get back to work. I didn't have enough PTO time to miss work. I had to get back to work. Had to get back to living.

Gotta go. Gotta move.

I pretended I wasn't broken, because if I let myself be broken, I wasn't going to make it.

#

I'm not actually sure when I started writing dark fiction. I know I started writing GOD'S WAR the year I was dying. I was losing a lot of weight and drinking a lot of water, but nobody could figure out what was wrong with me.

It certainly started out as a dark little book; a war-weary world, a world-weary protagonist. But after I got back from the hospital, after I started measuring out my life in medication, something changed.

Because I realized something then, looking at all the medical bullshit keeping me alive:

Every life is a tragedy.

We are all going to die.

There is no other ending, no matter the choices you make.

There was some relief in that.

#

My first hospital visit after getting out of the ICU, I walked into the hospital bathroom and had a panic attack.

It was the strangest thing. One minute, I'm totally fine. I'm cool and collected. I'm just seeing my doctor, to deal with this bullshit illness.

But when I went into the bathroom and washed my hands, I smelled it: the antiseptic soap.

I'd first smelled it in the ICU, during that bloody horror show of a week.

I started to shake.

I went back into the bathroom stall and sat down. I burst into tears.

No reason.

Just the smell. The panic.

I'd been a body on a slab; a thing, subhuman.

Wash yourself.

#

I just finished playing a game called Mass Effect 3, the third in the Mass Effect franchise, naturally. It has a really contentious ending. The galaxy is being destroyed by an evil alien force, so of course your mission is to stop it.

But it's clear from the opening scene that you're basically fucked.

No matter what you choose, you're fucked.

I knew this from the very start. Right from the opening. I saw what was coming. I saw we were all fucked. And I played that game faster than any game I've ever played, because I could feel the urgency - yes, we're all fucked, but we're going to save the galaxy. I'm going to get there. I'm going to save it.

It's a relentlessly dark game, but it's just a game, right?

Yet I found myself playing this game and crying the whole way through it. I cried through the whole ending, because I knew. I knew from the very beginning. I knew how it would end.

We're all going to die.

But it was different, when I played the game. When I played it through in the game, it wasn't like in real life, when I had to keep moving, I had to keep sucking air; gotta find a job, figure out how to pay insurance bills, pack up my shit, move to a new place....

When I played the game, it was the character taking all these hits. It was the character who was letting people down. It was the character who had to keep moving.

And that freed me up to actually feel something.

I could actually roll through all those terrible emotions - the broken despair, the horror, the fear, the rage, the sorrow. I didn't have to muscle through. I could spend 40 hours of game time emoting, and not feel bad about it. It was emotion without weakness, catharsis without giving in to a real-world threat.

When I got to the end of the game, it was perfect, for me.

Because I knew from the start we were all going to die.

The challenge was having the fortitude to keep going when you knew you were going to die, when you knew it was all going to end.

For the character. For the fake galaxy.

For me, eventually.

And all of us.

#

I'm not sure where I picked up this relentless way of muscling through things without stopping to process them. I think it's a survival thing. My mom does this too, during times of great stress. The whole world bleeds away, and I get this laser focus. It means I'm incredibly good during times of fear and panic and crazy, but it can be days or weeks before I actually bust down and process what happened.

Reading tragedies, I realized, connecting with characters who persevered in the face of grim odds, and certain ends - were actually comfort reading for me. They put me into high-stress situations with no personal stakes, so I could actually feel the fear and discomfort and rage and horror without having any skin in the game.

Dark fiction didn't depress me - it invigorated me. So when folks talked to me about my work, or the books I read, and said they were downers, there was always a big disconnect. I understood why they would like upbeat endings, all neat and tidy, because real life wasn't like that, and they wanted something more hopeful.

But I felt plenty of hope all the time. It was the hope that kept me going.

I read because I needed to feel the other things without losing my shit and giving up.

Tragedies are, at their core, stand-ins for life itself. We all know how this little jaunt is going to end. We all know we're going to die. But we stick with it anyway. We persevere. We survive for just a little longer. Just a little bit longer, even knowing the end.

I do find real courage in that. There's a good story in that. And it's people who understand the end and get up again that I'm most interested in telling stories about, because people who take the hits and keep getting up inspire me to do it, too. If they can endure all that crap and get up again, well, hey, chronic illness and unemployment and bad relationships and poverty aren't so bad.

I did get up, eventually, I get up every time. Things got better.

But I know it won't always be sun and roses. I know the dark stuff is there - in my past, in my future. It bubbles up sometimes.

It's funny, though, because when it bubbles up I don't face it down, then: there are bills to pay, and posts to write. I face all that horror and fear on the page, instead. In safe stories about fake people's tragedies.

Tragedy is my comfort fiction, and I'm OK with that.

67 Comments

1:

Just the smell. The panic.

When I was 18 months old I had life saving surgery. Obviously I don't remember it but even now, nearly 60 years later, if I enter a hospital it takes just one smell of antiseptic and I start shaking.

Smell hands you a card saying "Go directly to emotions. Do not pass rationality. Do not collect logic."

But as you say, if a situation needs dealing with, we deal with it. Evolution has brutally ensured that. I really don't understand people who think doing so makes one unfeeling

On a purely British note: I'm very grateful for the NHS. It's saved my life 3 times already. Any idiot politician who thinks we should move to a US style medical system should be made to read this article.

2:

Any idiot politician who thinks we should move to a US style medical system should be made to read this article.

Ignoring what the politicians yell on the news, I know of very few people, left, right, center, purple, whatever who think the US health care system is wonderful in all aspects. Or even most aspects. Except those who have a good employer provided plan and have never looked at the real costs and just tend to think of it as "free" or nearly so.

Now as to whether or not ACA/OC is the solution, now that's a big debate.

3:

Excellent post. But I would suggest giving Pratchett another try. Underneath the humour there is a real core of darkness in some of his books, particularly the character of Granny Weatherwax. She is old, lives alone, and is very much aware she will die one day soon. She is feared and respected, but not loved (except, in a way, by her fellow witches) because of her iron determination to do what she believes to be right.

Needless to say, the character of Death is accompanied by darkness as well. As he says, THERE'S NO JUSTICE. THERE'S JUST ME.

4:

I don't think even the defenders of the ACA believe it to be "the solution", or would describe it as anything but an ugly and complicated political compromise. At best, it helps establish the principle of universal access to health care and provides a platform for future improvements. It patches some of the most egregious features of the old system but leaves deeper issues untouched.

5:

Interesting post. Neil Gaiman made a related point in his blog recently observing how comedians tend to be grim people in daily life, while horror writers are by contrast cheerful and upbeat, as if they got it all out of their system with their work.

Haven't played mass effect 3 yet, but I recall thinking how the objections people had to the downer endings were somewhat suspect, given the first two games essentially set up an unstoppable galaxy ending threat, what were they expecting? Any ending besides "everyone dies" has to count as a good ending when the premise is "techno cthulhu and friends are coming to harvest us all"

Unfortunately for me I find that lately I can't get into games like I used to, in order to play effectively I find I have to distance myself from the narrative, in order to properly exploit the mechanics. Kind of what you do with real life, maybe I should try it too.

6:

This is true, Pratchett does have an underlying core of realism running through. The man invented knurd, after all.

[[ url fixed - you forgot to quote it. again. mod ]]

7:

In one of Lawrence Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr books, there's a minor character who is a surgeon at a busy emergency room in New York. Her favourite leisure reading is pulp detective yarns full of mindless violence, because "There's nothing quite so relaxing as blood and gore that's somebody else's problem."

8:

Oh yes. I had a particularly dark time in my life where I binged on horror, book after book after book, because I needed to see the bad things happening to someone else. I couldn't cry for my own pain. I knew if I did, I'd never be able to stop. But I could cry for these fictional characters as their lives were torn apart.

9:

(Not sure why my comments are giving an undecipherable url instead of my name, which is Happy.)

10:

This seems trivial with respect to the overall themes of this post, but with regard to Mass Effect: you know Sheppard is not going to make it, at least as the Sheppard he was. But there are different endings depending on your choices throughout the trilogy and in some of them the galaxy can be saved for various values of saved.

Even the everyone gets harvested bad ending is hopeful if you have a ridiculously long term viewpoint.

11:

My husband is a HUGE Pratchett fan, and keeps trying to get me to come back. I did read one book, which I now forget the title of, but it just wasn't doing it for me. Not sure why it doesn't work for me, since, as you said, he does deal with these themes, but I seem to prefer different execution.

12:

I suspect the blog software was suffering cognitive dissonance associating that name with your comment.

Yeah, it does that. Nobody is quite sure why, though registering with the blog rather than trying to use a Google/Open/${foo}ID is one way round it. You do have to give it an email address, but you did that anyway.

13:

It was such a strange experience. Thought I was all logical rationality, and my body just totally betrayed me. Took awhile to figure out that yes, that's OK; we have to process trauma at some point, and even after we do, our body holds onto it. It was actually reading about PTSD in soldiers that led me to figure out what it was. I just thought I was nuts.

And yeah, there were times I really wished I could move to Canada, during that first year when I was unemployed/under-employed and newly diagnosed.

14:

Yeah, ACA isn't a great solution. But it's... something. Better than the nothing that was there before. Most people actually didn't realize how bad it was until something really terribly happened to them, and they started getting all these bills even though they "had insurance" because their claims were either denied or they had junk policies that actually didn't cover anything.

15:

I played the game on Easy, because it let me enjoy the story more. And yeah - folks who think they'll just wave a wand and stop some unstoppable force after three games of "they're coming, you're screwed!" well... they are optimists, I guess.

The opening of the third game did a pretty swell job of robbing any lingering hope I had for a clean end.

16:

Ha. Yes. This. And much more succinct than me!

17:

If the one you tried was The Colour of Magic, I wouldn't be surprised. It's the first one in the series but it is much more lighthearted than the later works. You might want to check out Mort or Wyrd Sisters. Although I realise that Pratchett is one of those writers that some people just don't "get".

18:

I'm kind of relieved to hear someone else say that. I keep hearing people don't like dark/tragic books here in US publishing, and it guts me, because I hate the idea that "the market" won't support them. I think they're very valuable. I mean, Greek tragedies! It's a classic form. It's something people need.

19:

Well, I tried not to be TOO spoilery, but yeah. The idea is that basically, nobody gets out of the end without being profoundly changed.

20:

I love Pratchett — he's responsible for my wife and me meeting in the first place — and he's one of the great writers of his generation. But I for one wouldn't expect everyone to love any single writer, because it's just not possible for any one writer to supply all the different things that readers want from reading.

To illustrate, sometimes I want light-and-fluffy (a lot of that last year), and sometimes I want something angsty and emotional I can sink my teeth into. That's one person at different times, so why should multiple people be the same if one person isn't?

That is one of the things about art, whether pictorial or literature or music or even cooking: it's there to feed a whole bunch of different needs. While I think it's possible to note where something has been done well, that doesn't mean it's automatically right for one.

21:

Somewhat off topic, but I once went to an outdoor performance of the stage adaptation of Mort.

Early on, Death is explaining to a young man named Mort that he wishes to take him on as an apprentice. Mort says, "But you kill people!"

Death is highly affronted. "Kill? I do not kill. War kills. Disease kills." The seven foot tall, robed and hooded skeleton points at one of the smokers in the audience. "Smoking... kills."

The joke doesn't appear and wouldn't work in the book, but on stage it was great.

22:

The power of Tragedy, of pathos, is as strong and abiding as that of Comedy. That you find strength and solace in it, Kameron, is no surprise whatsoever.

Now you've got me curious, since the you who is writing the Mirror Empire books is in a different place (however subtly, but still) than the person who wrote Nyx' harsh world. I'm curious how it will reflect on the page.

23:

Popping my head over the parapet briefly (in New York) to add: most casual readers don't seem to realize that the Laundry Files are a slow-motion tragedy yet ... disguised as humor, because if we can't laugh in the face of adversity, all that's left is misery and depression.

24:

It has been moving that way with each book, but of course we here arent casuals :-P

25:

The first rule of a Lovecraftian Apocalypse: you do not survive a Lovecraftian Apocalypse.

Kameron: I'm looking forward to giving your books a try.

26:

There was a TV show in the 90s over here called "Homicide, Life on the Streets" or something close to that. It followed the homicide squad in Baltimore and was based from someone who followed the real life group around for a year or so. And Baltimore at the time was NOT a nice place in most of the neighborhoods.

Anyway, there was one episode that focused specifically on this area. The husband of a victim lost it when he walked in on the detectives working his wife's murder joking around in their break room. The point being that these guys live with murder every day. They can't be all serious, gloom and doom 24/7 or they would go nuts.

I have a brother in law who recently retired as a cop. Some of his comments would not go over well as he would make light of many things just to stay sane. I especially like his term "frequent flyers".

27:

I have some understanding of your motives. I have spent time in ICU. But, in the end, all that you have described of you books feels too triggery for me.

And maybe some of that feeling is a sort of inherited PTSD. My grandfather was in the trenches in Flanders, and I am sure that my father passed on to me some of the coping strategies.

My sense of humour has a black streak.

28:

See also: medical humour.

(A quick search indicates that number of murders for the whole of the UK was only about three times that for Baltimore. Doctors on the other hand will always be seeing death.)

29:

I can relate to this. There was time in my life when watching Millennium made me happy and calm. And I am not generally a Goth sort of person, but certain kinds of dark art can feel very heimlich rather than uncanny as they supposedly ought to.

I don't know if it's the ability to distance/dissasociate from "bad stuff" happening or the ability to control your dosage of darkness at least within this microcosm. To say "I am choosing this" at my preferred pace rather than "I am being run over by this in real time."

It is also possible that dark can feel like home because parts of the real world are dark and we inhabit that portion as much as any other. Except if we develop nostalgia for those bits of geography or history, people say we are imbalanced. But what's more balanced, denying part of life or accomodating it all.

And I imagine writing could potentially be even more refreshing than other ways of experiencing this.

(Unfortunately since I don't have Kameron's wisdom and don't play on Easy, gaming is more about raging against the world, machine and my aging body.)

30:

I adore Pratchett, I love his the really smart humor in his books. Plus he's just a great guy...

But my favorite books by him are the Tiffany Aching books -- YA books he set in Discworld, but it's much less about the jokes and more about deep personal issues. Discworld books are usually just more about comments on civilization or society.

Also, Nation, which has nothing to do with Discworld (which I didn't know until I was done with the first chapter wondering when the funny was going to happen because OMG none of that was funny). It's a brilliant book, and the theme is persevering.

I'm not sure anyone can understand chronic illness at a young age unless they have one. It's very lonely. It's brutal seeing your body fall apart when you expected you had more time.

I'm surprised at how in recovering from my worst year ever (oh, it's fun teaching your 3 and 7 yo how to call 911 in case mommy needs to go to the ER again) I do want to read much more brutal fiction. I usually avoid it because I have enough of that in my own head, and I try to read and watch banal comedy so I can get the bad stuff out of my head. But like you said, there's something in reading about someone else's pain that is weirdly healing or cathartic. So I find myself reading Chuck Wendig even though I'm like "WTH? Wow he's messed up... yay! Someone more messed up than me!!" ;D

31:

(You're were almost correct with the title it's Homicide:Life on the Street. It was based on the work of David Simon, who later went on to co-write The Wire).

32:

Like Bellinghman, I suspect you read "The Colour of Magic", which is useful for world-building more than for literature. My personal favourites are the Death sequence, starting with Mort, and the Anhk-Morpork City Watch sequence, starting with "Guards, Guards!". From what you say,, your husband will be able to fill in the blanks from there.

I was trying to avoid USian healthcare, since you'd already illustrated the fundamental tragedy there.

33:

"Chronic illness is like getting hammered upside the head with a shovel. They tell me it's an immune disorder, and there's nothing I could have done to prevent it. So sorry for you. Too bad. Could be worse. There are worse illnesses.

But now it costs me $500 a month in meds just to keep on living.

Man, did that statement hit home. I too have been faced with chronic illness and loss of job and you verbalized the feelings beautifully. Although I have the opposite reaction to my depression and darkness I can sort of relate too. I've dabbled in fanfiction for fun and I write dark angsty stories with the characters often horribly tortured. I can't read it, but its the only thing I can write.

34:

See also: medical humour.

Good friend is a cariologist. 90% of his patients are near end of life with reduced heart function. His wife and daughter are nurses.

They are very well adjusted people. But they say that hospitals have rooms where they can hide from the "customers" and pretend to have a normal life for a few minutes when needed. They definitely have a game face on when in front of patients.

35:

During my thankfully-brief career as a pharmacist, one of the routine tasks in clinical pharmacy practice in a major teaching hospital was doing ward rounds. (A chunk of the pharmacist's job is to check on the medication regimes the patients are on and do things like ensure nobody's come in with an iatrogenic illness and been written up for more of the same by an over-worked/tired house officer on admission ... but I digress.)

This was usually neither onerous nor unpleasant. Until the time I found myself covering on the spinal injuries ward at a regional teaching hospital.

I don't do nightmares about specific times and places, but if I did, that ward would be one of them -- the stillness and quiet of the patients, the lucky ones with steel rods bolted to their skulls and collar bones to immobilize them while they healed ... the unlucky ones without.

36:

Before my own real-life experience, I thought that 'dark' books might be useful as a type of preparation or training. Not really ... only books written by authors who actually had had direct experience either as patients or very close to such patients.

BTW, despite the fear, hurt, etc. there were actually quite a few moments at the hospital that were rib-hurting, roaring hilarious -- in an absurd Ponty-esque way. Of course, the only people who also laughed were those who'd had similar experiences.

37:

When my friend is on weekend call we have learned not to ask him how things are going. He is most likely recently from the ER dealing with people near death or dead. We just talk about other things unless he brings it up.

38:

This reminded me that I had read a blog post Kameron Hurley had written a few months ago about her illness, and 'Obamacare' (I think I saw it by way of Charlie retweeting it). Very disturbing and a bit close to home, though from a family member's point of view in my case. As soon as I finished reading it, I shared it on facebook and emailed to my mother (the patient). In some ways it was more stressful on me (though I know it wasn't really); she was unconcious in the ICU for a few days and doesn't remember a lot of her time in the hospital, while I was running back and forth, keeping family and friends informed, and generally not being able to do anything. About the only good thing about her month in the hospital was that she's a disabled veteran, so it only cost a few hundred dollars, rather than the thousands it would have. So, yeah, I'm a believer in so-called socialised medicine.


As for story endings, for me, it all depends on what the it calls for. I like dark and light stories, depending on mood, though perhaps leaning toward the darker. So as long as it realistically fits the story up to the end I'll probably be fine with it--assuming I liked it to begin with.

39:

I apologise, I did preview the post, looked fine. Won't happen again.

40:

I've been getting that impression which is why I'm likely to never finish reading it. Might end up with the complete set, but the last 2 or three will be in pristine condition.

On the topic of the post, I think the knuckling down and getting on with things and processing them later is actually a widely known way humans have of dealing with great stress. I haven't experienced it much myself, although come from a long line of good Scots emotion suppressors and stoic stiff upper lippers.

41:

Me too, Paul. In truth, playing Mass Effect actually reminded me, I think, a lot of what this new series feels like, though. I've got a small group of people facing an absolutely impossible situation that just guts them. Part of what drew me to it is creating folks who start out goody-goody, and then find themselves having to make tougher and tougher decisions as conditions deteriorate around them, and become very different, much colder, more complex, because of that.

So. I suspect I have not yet lost my love of tragedy!

42:

I once visited a neo-natal intensive care ward. That was pretty disturbing on multiple levels.

The quiet, the dim lights, the small babies in incubators, the tiny one surrounded by giant machines.

43:

I kinda knew it, but reading your post made me realize how little I managed to process my own trauma*. The way it feels to me, I describe as "living in my frontal lobe". You push back everything not immediately related to survival (your own or your dependents), bury it under as thick a blanket as you can gather, and plow through (cf: "The Nile is not..."). And the black humor seeps, coloring everything. And your small-talk replies change, to the point where you have to remind yourself that some things are best not said in civilized company. But I find that for me there aren't any good outlets, which makes me question even harder the sustainability of this strategy.

But this also explains to me why my two big reading binges of the year were the re-issued Merchant Princes and the four Laundry books (and Charlie- to me the Laundry books are obviously of the "comedy is the best tragedy" type). And why I keep going back to the old albums I keep going back to (like Murder Ballads, and the X-Files' "Songs in the Key of X"). And also why the "you're so strong" compliments sound so hollow.

And on a lighter note- I don't think a Pratchett discussion can be complete without Good Omens. It's not dark per-se, but it has enough darkness in it, I believe.

Now I'm off to take another look at God's War- maybe this will be my next reading binge. Thanks Kameron.


(*Big C, not mine, no happy ending)

44:

Reading/watching "Dark" Story is calming. I get the feeling of, "Thank, you, for telling the truth" as I read/watch. That is important in these days of the steady stream of bright happy lies or attempts to make you fear everything; all in the same news program. HA!

This past month I have been working through stuff by pulling out "Dark" books and movies. Each time I try to pull up a "light/fluffy" Story I put it away with a shudder and go for the "Dark". BTW, I watched _Hawking_ on PBS last night, then your post this morning helped crystalize what has been going on. Thanks...

I have all three of your _God's War_ books on my to-be-read pile and will read them after Brin.

Here is a list of what I've read/watched this past month. Feel free to TL;DR HA!

I watched _Constantine_ again, and read the novelization by Shirley; pure Story.

I watched _Wanted_ and _Red_ again; both deeply awesome Story. _Red 2_ was deeply wrong, and I finally understood why. They didn't take the time to "watch the avocado grow" the way they did in the first movie.

I read _Parasite_ by Mira Grant and ordered her _Newsflesh Trilogy_; compulsive reading.

I watched _John Dies at The End_ again, then read the book, then watched the dvd again; awesome Story. I then read _This Book is full of Spiders_. David Wong is a God!

I then watched _Hellboy_ 1 & 2 again, read the novelizations of each; devastating Story. I listened to the commentary tracks all day as I worked about the house, rather than deal with the news.

I watched _World War Z_ every other day for over a week, each time feeling at peace after each viewing. I pulled out the _Muse_, _2nd Law_, cd and listened to it on infinite loop two days straight while I worked. This was the music in the movie. I'm listening to it now as I write this.

I watched _Stranger than Fiction_ again; Dustin Hoffman is deeply scary in that role.

I read _Something More than Night_ by Tregillis; total fail, won't read that again. He flinched, and didn't tell Story. It could have been brilliant if he hadn't feared the "Space Cadet" backlash, all it was was noir babble. Even the characters in the book called it noir babble. I'll wait for him to write a few more books before I sample him again. The same with Scalzi. They have only done a couple of real books, the rest are contract filler.

The _Newsflesh Trilogy_ arrived and I spent days reading them, often hours past my bedtime. My God! I'll read them again come July.

I read Daniel Suarez _Daemon_ and _Freedom(tm)_ again, awesome Story; then his _Kill Decision_ for the second time; total fail, won't read that again.

I'm reading Brin's _Earth_ again, and will read _Existence_ again after that. Now that I understand how Brin is taking incoherent "Space Cadet Glow" and turning it into a coherent narrative, I am in awe.

Your books are next.

45:

"...all human life is a tragedy" - misquote from "The Unpleasant profession of Jonathan Hoag"

To KH: If you really want Pterry at his best - try "Soul Music" - made me both laugh & cry within half a page ....

46:

Mention that you don't like bacon and people will get pretty animated about it. They'll quiz you about it, or insist you actually do like it, or offer you new ways to cook it, or cook some in front of you and try to make you eat it.

Apparently Pratchett is the bacon of literature.

47:

Mention that you don't like bacon and people will get pretty animated about it.

Which is silly. Because if you don't like bacon, that's all the more for me.

Some people seem to get upset if you don't like something they do. They're not secure enough in their own selves.

Sure, if you call something crap, you're insulting their taste and you're being stupid.

But say you just say you don't like something, that's not an insult, and if they take it as one, then they are the ones being stupid.

There are all sorts of objective analyses that can be brought to liking or disliking something, but at the end of the day, it's usually subjective. A possible exception is the Brussels Sprout: for me a properly cooked sprout is a delicate flavour, but for OGH and many others there is apparently an overpowering pungent taste.

48:

At time of writing Pterry has written 40 full novels, a handful of short stories, and 3? "popular science" volumes set in DiscWorld, over 30 years. It would be surprising if they all had an even tone. Equally, different people like different character sets more than others.

Equally, not everyone likes all of OGH's output equally (if at all).

So what's strange about saying "Ok, even if you didn't like $series1/$character_set1 you might find $series2/$character_set2 more to your taste", and from what she says it's not like we're asking Kameron to spend money on books, just time.

49:

Sprouts, Brussels, should be sweet surely - isn't the slightly bitter pungent quality a sign it is past it? (see below = irony?)

I think on the subject of subjective tastes, it's not always so much a matter of people insisting on their take on matters as being the correct one necessarily (and so the sole issue); but perhaps it is easy to see the driving motivation as such, on this I agree - and this is what they themselves probably think too. Moreover I see it as more and more being an effort to make sense of the world we now live in. The compulsion to pick up meme-viruses and feel that they mean more than all that they, the memes, want to do (and are), which is to spread themselves about willy-nilly, is very hard to a) realise, and b) break away from when/if you catch/notice yourself doing it (finding yourself defending something and not really knowing why in other words), is really quite high if you are not at least trying to "firewall" yourself from the phenomenon. The emotive content is probably largely irrelevant too.

@allynh, wow(!), a lot in one month!

50:

They have now discovered that some people have a protein sequence in their DNA that makes many green veggies taste horrible. Maybe 1 in 20 in the US. So all those kids told to suck it up and eat their veggies were in essence being punished and forced to eat crap.

The issue of I like it so everyone else should also is a subset of the concept that drives me up a wall. Shows up around here every now and then.

"Works for me". Therefore it should work for everyone. Think energy, raising kids, work habits, clothing choices, schooling options, whatever...

51:

"Works for me". Therefore it should work for everyone.

I always took "Works for me" as "I agree with the posited idea".

For instance, if someone suggests going to a local steak house for dinner, "works for me" means "yes, I'd like to go there too" rather than "everyone in the World must like steak because I do".

52:

They have now discovered that some people have a protein sequence in their DNA that makes many green veggies taste horrible

Particularly Brassica Oleracea - the species that includes the sprout, cabbage, kale, cauliflower and a bunch of others. OGH is one of those who taste it.

53:

It depends on context.

"Should we go to the steak house?" "Works for me"

That's agreement.

"z/OS7 keeps losing my email" "Works for me"

That's disagreement.

Sometimes, as David L says, 'works for me' is used to dismiss those who say something is broken. But sometimes it's used to disagree with people who want to take away something useful. In the latter case, the first set of people are effectively saying "It doesn't work for me, so it doesn't work for anyone" which is just as arrogant as the ones who think something should work for everyone.

(Moral: assuming any one thing can be right for everyone is a recipe for being a dickhead. Except possibly breathing.)

54:

Yes.

I was referring to the people who posit "build a house this way all over the planet as it works great here in the central plains of Spain in terms of energy use". Or "we organize our life in rural Indiana with our kids this way and it works great so if everyone would just do it life would be wonderful all over the planet."

55:

I also totally relate to getting flashbacks when I return to the hospital. The smells, the feel, it's hard not to return to that emotional place.

And I've read the Nyx trilogy already and think they're wonderful. Nyx is a fascinating character and I don't think there's anything else out there quite like her. I wish there was.

I don't always read dark, but if I do I want to read dark books that also make me re-examine my perspective, not gore/popcorn. God's War and the rest are both dark and self-aware.

56:

Funny thing about flashbacks ... you think that you know all of your triggers, then one day, wham- out of the blue - something small/trivial that you didn't even know you remembered just jumps out at you and you fall apart all over again.

57:

Cabbages, and the related plants, all share special problems in flavour. They contain glucosinolates, containing sulphur, which if overcooked release hydrogen sulphide.

The glucosinolates can also be converted to isothiocyanates, which is similar to Phenylthiocarbamide and which some people cannot taste. It all seems to tie in with the idea of the Supertaster.

It's this that leads to some people avoiding green vegetables in general. There is also the unfortunate English tradition of over-cooking cabbage. One cue for this is a dramatic darkening of the green shade.

Over the years I have experienced some significant differences in the cooking methods used. Both my grandmothers tended to overcook. School dinners could be pretty yucky too. And hospital food? Don't ask.

But when I was at University the college did a good job. And more recent stays in hospital were better too. While famous chefs have been trying new recipes for the TV camera, they've not always been logistically practical in hospitals.

I reckon the TV chef business has made the biggest difference in the UK. Once you escaped the how-to-be-posh element of the early days, there was more attention paid to flavours.

But the best away-from-home meal I had as a kid was in a transport caff on the road to Uttoxeter. British cookery wasn't the total black hole, half a century ago, that some have claimed.

(It's a bit awkward that the WW2 rationing did give people a healthier diet, but flavouring was less valued. It wasn't today's hair-shirt greens responsible for the lack, but the Woolton Pie needs something a little extra.)

(No, I am not in training for the Worldcon. I woke up after a nightmare about a car accident. With my history, some would call it PTSD, but it involved being shunted up the back by a huge police car, and forced off the road into a local river, and there are some other obvious clues in that scenario.)

The things you find on the net: I'd never heard of a world carrot museum.

58:

ATT & others
One of the prime problems with cooking brassicas is that they should be really (REALLY) fresh.
Preferably cut, or out-of the ground, the same day.
Rule 2: do not boil them ,ever.
Steam, fry, but not boil.

Last weekend, I went to my allotment, cut/broke off enough fresh sprouts for two helpings.
Cut off a sliver of their bases, when I got home, sliced into approx 5-10mm thick pieces, heated (grapseed) oil in small Wok, added a dash of chili suace, a spot of sesame oil, & a finely-chopped garlic clove (Also home-grown)
Stir-fry for approx 2-3mins maximum & serve with rest of meal.
Delicious.

Similarly, for Cauliflower/Calabrese/Broccoli - always steam & sometimes subseqhently stir-fry.
"Green in Snow" (Chinese mustard leaf) has a wonderful pungent taste, but I bring a whole plant home, with roots, put it in a pot of water & remove leaves as I want them - chop finely & add to soups & stir-fries.

59:

Ah, immune disorders. I had pneumonia five times over seven months in 2008/2009, fortunately no lung scarring. That's when we found out that I don't produce immuneglobin, I have CVID, odd thing to discover in your mid 40s. Thus I get four needles weekly in my abdomen for about two hours, but I'm the healthiest that I've ever been in terms of how often I get sick.

It sucks, but it beats the alternatives. Best of luck to you!

60:

Kameron, this made wonderful reading. I'm another of the chronically ill brigade (porphyria plus other stuff, in my case), and your comment about the freedom to feel is genuinely one of the best insights I've ever read into how it is dark art can provide such relief. I've seen your work around but haven't read any of it; tonight I went over and bought the God's War omnibus and Brutal Women, then came back to write this comment.

Thank you.

61:

I think life is actually comedy, tragedy, drama, romance, all the genres rolled together. However periods in your life can certainly map strongly to one of those. he overall theme of your life has to do with your own mental outlook. One persons darkest hour is another's normal day

I think we are also the first generation where it is not an entirely 100% certain thing that "we are all going to die" if by "we" you mean everyone alive at this moment. Highly, highly probably though

I think we all have different methods of keeping the lights burning in the dark

62:

Kameron's post, I think, highlights the impact of PTSD in medical care. This is not uncommon, and can seriously impact on the provision of future medical care.

In the UK, treatment of PTSD is free on the NHS. You can see your GP about referral to specialist services for diagnosis and treatment. Even if you can't achieve a cure, pyschologists are available to teach coping strategies that may help lessen the impact of the condition.

Also, I would suggest that if you find yourself suffering from PTSD symptoms after medical treatment, please let the department who treated you know about it. It is impossible to fund psychological services, or change practice without knowing that there is a problem, and by letting the person who treated you know, you could potentially save someone else a similar experience.


63:

Also Greg @ #58

One of the other groups I'm on has a running in-joke about putting the Christmas sprouts on in August (you may get away with September if you use a pressure cooker).

64:

A quick jump onto the Pratchett bandwagon: For dark, I don't think he's ever been blacker than NIGHT WATCH -- but probably diffficult to start here as there's a lot of back story to many of the characters contained in previous novels featuring the Watch.

On another tangent: I often think that medical staff have a tougher time than police in processing the horrors they deal with. Partly because they have less on-the-job time when they can decompress with colleagues, and partly because the general public don't usually see how soul suckingly horrific their job can be (it's relatively easy to understand how terrible it is to deal with murder on a daily basis, but hard to convey the sense of horror that dealing with debilitating illnesses day in and day out can cause, unless one has direct experience). My significant other is a nurse, and I know that after every shift I need to allow her at least an hour where she can decompress and relate the horror stories, because she simply can't allow it to touch her while she's in work.

(And my synmpathies on the shoddy treatment you got from that orderly, Kameron -- any decent medical staff would have hung, drawn and quartered the little shit for that kind of thing!)

65:

They have now discovered that some people have a protein sequence in their DNA that makes many green veggies taste horrible. Maybe 1 in 20 in the US. So all those kids told to suck it up and eat their veggies were in essence being punished and forced to eat crap.

But we're always being told that veggies are good for us. The 5-a-day rule and all that. So the kids may have felt as though they were being punished, but they weren't really, nor were they being forced to eat crap.

By the way, is it odd that a chunk of DNA that codes for behaviour that makes us avoid healthy food is so widespread? Anyone expert in evolutionary genetics and nutrition here?

The issue of I like it so everyone else should also is a subset of the concept that drives me up a wall. Shows up around here every now and then.

But "I am healthy because of it, so everyone else should be made to do it also" is reasonable, surely?

66:

This will surely explode some heads:

There is a pub near where I work. One of their side dishes is Brussels Sprouts. By default it comes with bacon. I order it without bacon!!!!

This appears to put the staff on tilt slightly, as they then usually ask me if I want it vegan or vegetarian... along with my hamburger.

But really they just don't need the bacon, and the place puts in way too much making it a bit gross (bowl of bacon bits with sprouts).

67:

"Bacon bits" or pancetta? They're two completely different things.

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This page contains a single entry by Kameron Hurley published on January 30, 2014 8:00 AM.

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