Guest Blog by Alex Bledsoe: Speaking of Monsters

I first met Alex Bledsoe at a reading from his first novel, Blood Groove, in May of 2009. Since then, he’s released a number of other novels across three series and a half-dozen or so short stories. His sequel to Blood Groove, Girls With Games Of Blood, currently awaits my attention on my to-read shelf. He has also launched a series of fantasy novels involving the exploits of a detective, Eddie LaCrosse, and he recently created a new series about an isolated group of people in East Tennessee, the Tufa.

Alex and I shared billing in two anthologies, and spent time together reading from our stories to promote the books: Haunted: Eleven Tales of Ghostly Horror, and Sidekicks!. His story in Sidekicks! is one I admire tremendously; at the same time spare and rich in words, he delivers a clever story with a surprising ending that was the perfect tale to lead off the book.

Alex’s own website can be found at alexbledsoe.com, where one can find his appearances schedule, more information on his books, and his own blog.

SPEAKING OF MONSTERS
by Alex Bledsoe

With each Eddie LaCrosse novel, I try to strike out in a new direction, bringing in fresh influences. For example, Dark Jenny was my take on Arthurian stories, while Wake of the Bloody Angel contained everything I loved about pirates.

The latest, He Drank, and Saw the Spider, draws from the works of Shakespeare: not directly, but if you’re familiar with his plays, you’ll probably spot plenty of things you recognize, tweaked to work in Eddie’s world. And one of those things is a monster, who I call Tatterhead.

First, I should say that I love monsters. From Frankenstein’s creation to Godzilla, from King Kong to the kaiju of Pacific Rim, I just adore them.  I love their scale, their strangeness, their ability to destroy beyond all reason, and the fear they inspire.  And a lot of that is because monsters don’t actually exist: in the real world, things are limited by biology, physics and evolution.  A five-hundred-foot lizard simply couldn’t exist, but man, what if one did?  That’s the thrill they give you, whether you’re five or fifty.

Tatterhead’s antecedent is pretty clearly Caliban, the “monster” from The Tempest. Just as many of Shakespeare’s plays can work in various unlikely settings (The Tempest itself provided the framework for the SF classic Forbidden Planet), even individual characters can be made to represent things that never even existed when Shakespeare wrote his plays.

In the play, the magician Prospero is marooned on an island with his daughter. Caliban is the island’s only other corporeal inhabitant, son of the witch Sycorax and supposedly fathered by a devil. Caliban is depicted as primitive and amoral, and even tries to unapologetically rape Prospero’s daughter. He plots ludicrously to kill Prospero in one of the play’s goofier sub-plots. And he’s been used to represent the oppressed masses of almost every era since Shakespeare’s.  After all, the island used to belong to him, until that rich/powerful/European/capitalist/paternalistic/trope of your choice Prospero came along.

But is he really a monster?

There’s a lots of scholarly stuff written about that, and I’ll leave it to you to pursue it if you’re so inclined. For me, he was: partly human, but partly not, and with a legitimate grievance against Prospero for taking over “his” island. And were Prospero not a magician, Caliban might’ve wreaked much more monster-like damage on the island and those on it. 

When I set about putting a Caliban-esque figure in He Drank, and Saw the Spider, I wanted him to be a monster, but one that could speak, feel, and interact with Eddie and the other human characters.  In fact, I wanted his “monster” status to be a bit ambivalent to both the characters and the reader, so their view of him would change as the story progressed.

Luckily, Shakespeare’s actual physical description of Caliban is rather vague, so I wasn’t locked into anything.  Much as when I depicted dragons in Burn Me Deadly, I tried to apply some level of biological realism; I didn’t want a character so far outside Darwinian nature that he’d be laughable. That’s why I made an issue of his distinctive odor, something that often precedes him; it’s hard to believe a monster wouldn’t smell at least a little unpleasant.

As for his personality–is he friend or foe?–you’ll have to read the novel. Which also features a sorceress, a slumming prince, a wise-crackering reporte–uh, I mean, scribe, bad sheep jokes and a barn full of babies.  It’s available January 14th from Tor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *