Psychopaths done properly

June 2, 2008

I generally don’t buy that many horror novels. Sometimes I’ll pick something up, if it’s a name I recognise, or a title I know is a classic. The only writer who many connect with horror that I actively follow is Stephen King. (I’m one of the few people who actually prefers his newer stuff to the stuff he wrote pre-accident.)

The reason for this, is that it seems to me that a lot of horror is concerned with serial killers, psychopaths, or other people who aren’t quite right in the head. Now, they can be utterly fascinating characters when done properly, but they tend to fall a little short.

I was listening to Matt Wallace being interviewed on Tea and Chat earlier on, and he mentioned how much fun he had writing the Feral Twins. That’s a pretty brave thing to admit, considering how infinitely messed-up those two are. However, I think the having-fun-white-writing thing must work, because The Failed Cities Monologues’ resident psychopathic killers-for-hire are prime specimens of an exceedingly rare breed: psychopaths I actually enjoyed as characters.

It’s hard for me to pin down why these two work. Maybe the fact that it’s two, not one, helps. They give each other a context (aah, there I am with my context again). Together, they create their own environment, which gives Wallace’s audience a reference point. The stark contrast between the psychopaths and their surroundings is toned down, allowing us to look at the characters as actual people, rather than things that don’t belong. The actual character traits are the focus, rather than how those traits are wrong, or deviant, or sick.

Another thing that appeals to me, is the fact that they don’t pity themselves or each other. They find strength in each other, and the power that they hold over others. Yes, this is the power of life and death, and it’s a little messed up, but they don’t realise that. Either that, or they simply don’t acknowlede it. The Feral Twins do not throw pity parties. I am not annoyed by their frustration or angst, unlike the protagonist in Pseudopod’s Blood, Gridlock and Pez, by Kevin Anderson. Although the fact that the protagonist ends up as crazy as the guy who menaces him isn’t evident from the beginning of the narrative, I’m unable to sympathize with him. So your girlfriend is cheating on you, and you got threatened by a guy with an axe. Cry me a river, son.

The Feral Twins go through some awful things, but they fight back against all the problems life throws at them. They are taking their fate into their own hands, reacting to the wrongs that other people have done them in a way that isn’t exactly positive, but is at least pro-active. I could sort of get behind it, if it wasn’t for the slaughtering of people.

As characters, they have strength. They could have whole novels written about them, because they do more than simply lash out after being provoked for a long time. They are not the passive ‘oh noes look at my horrible life, I’m going to kill someone and then you’ll be sorry’ characters that seem so prevalent.

However, such ‘weak’ psychotic characters can make for interesting narratives, if handled properly. SL Bickley’s Pseudopod offering, It’s Easy To Make A Sandwich, shows us someone who slowly descends into madness, and eventually starts hurting those around him because of it. Generally, I really dislike this kind of narrative, because it has no real point, other than to showcase frustration, anger, and mental problems. These subjects can be interesting, but aren’t enough to hold my attention when they’re not backed up by something else. However, I enjoyed It’s Easy To Make A Sandwich, because of the style and the competence of the writing. I was immersed in the protagonist’s psyche. It didn’t really stick with me (I only remembered it as I was looking over the Pseudopod archives for this article; it didn’t make me nervous about having lunch at my favourite bagel place either), but I do remember being surprised at actually liking it, contrary to my expectations.

Still, that messed-up food technician doesn’t come close to Matt Wallace’s Feral Twins. But then and again, that’s not too surprising. Yes, I will devote an article to the excellent Failed Cities Monologues, but I want to do it justice. I don’t have the time to give it another listen right now, but rest assured, it will happen.

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