Wednesday, 8 February 2012

It's dark in here

I don't really know why, but i love antiheroes. Flawed, troubled or just plain psychotic, they're just so much more interesting than good guys. Early on i knew i wanted to create and develop characters that were ... ethically challenged.

I've just watched the best piece of telly this year. It doesn't sound like it would be, but (stay with me on this) Bomber Boys, with Ewan McGregor and his brother was great. Ostensibly about Colin McGregor learning to fly a Lancaster bomber, it actually took the time to explore a number of challenging things.

1) We see old men, but forget that they've seen and done things that we just cannot imagine. Some of those things were terrible. Does that make them terrible people?
2) War is prosecuted until there is regime change. Really it's between a handful of people on either side, but involves and destroys thousands or millions of people in the process. The section of the film that looked at the deliberate targeting of the civilian population was quite tough.
3) Soldiers have to dehumanise their enemy and that makes it easier to kill them. i read that a large proportion of bullets in WW2 were deliberately fired to miss, so not everybody is capable to do it.
4) Many bomber crews were determined that, if the plane was badly damaged, they would stay with rather than abandon their mates. Infantry also report that they don't fight for their country, or a symbol, or a concept. When the shit hits the fan, they're fighting for their mates.

So, normal people do terrible things when their lives, or their mates lives are at stake. The characters in Echo have all served in the recent war, but now they're fighting because that's what they do.

Echo herself is an assassin. She was raised by the Empire and indoctrinated to obey. She has never considered whether she has a choice and has been a killer for the last eight years. The body count, by the end of the book is more than fifty, and quite a lot of them weren't actually necessary.

York commanded an Imperial warship. Tens of thousands of enemy combatants were killed by his ships, and he is conscious that scores of his own crew have died as a direct result of his orders. Until now, he has never actually killed anybody himself although this changes and i enjoyed exploring the impact of that on him.

The Bad Girls are a squad of Imperial Guards who have sworn allegiance to York. Echo describes one of them: I looked into her eyes. This woman killed, often. Not that unusual for a soldier, but something in her eyes said she did it without a hint of remorse and she was totally untouched by it. It was like looking into a mirror. I'm about to write a scene where the Bad Girls get into a fight in a bar. I suspect there will be deaths, but they didn't set out to cause them. They fight and kill because they are ordered to do so. Only obeying orders. We've heard that before from concentration camps guards. Despite all that, i like to think that my characters are reasonably likeable people and the feedback from the first readers suggests that i was successful.

So, a crew of people doing terrible things. Are they terrible people? Possibly. Are they good characters. I'd like to think so, but i'm probably the least qualified person to judge.


  1. Oddly I just wrote a very similar post related to anti-heroes in fantasy as a guest blog (link below if you want to read).
    They are more fun but trickier to write, I find. Fantasy especially is replete with them, not least since the boom in gritty fantasy such as George RR Martin's work or Joe Abercrombie's. I think their appeal is down to escapism. We can live out a lot of our own demons through these characters and also identify, in some part, with the disorder they have about them.
    really enjoyed the post.

    If you wanted a peek at my guest blog...

  2. Love Joe Abercrombie but never really connected with GRRM. Difficult to find the right balance between complete git and likeable rogue. Love first 30 minutes of Han Solo (Han fired first!) but then he's just another hero. So i guess it might be easy to start with an antihero but loose it along the way. Wonder if i should get Echo to commit some final unspeakable act. Hmmm.