“Between guilt and regret?” I laughed. “A big one. I’m guilty because I know a lot of what I’ve done is wrong, but to be sorry, I’d have to regret doing it, and the only thing I’m really sorry about”–her head darted in, thinking she had me, but I was too fast and caught her by the hair, slinging her around and letting go as she rocketed back toward my lane–“is that horrible first frame split.”
“You son of a–” The ball return cut her off again.
“Hey,” I yelled, “here’s an idea. If your head comes off, don’t start a fight in a goddam bowling alley.”
Do you dig bad boys? I’m not talking about posers with leather jackets and permanent sneers. Nor do I mean jerks and assholes. I’m talking genuine anti-heroes. They don’t defy convention, they reject it. You won’t see them sneering at polite society. Uh uh, real anti-heroes spit at it, or punch it in the face. They want to be left alone to do their own thing without a bunch of finger-wagging, tut tutting, rules, regulations or laws. Mess with them at your own risk, because anti-heroes fight back. They fight dirty. Do them wrong, earn a place on their shit list, and oh man, you will be so very sorry.
Anti-heroes appeal to me because they say the things good manners won’t allow me to say. They do things I’d never have the guts to do. If you pay attention, you see they’re doing wrong for the right reasons. Not for power or greed or self-aggrandizement. You’ll never see a true anti-hero running for political office (though some are thrust, unwillingly and often unwittingly, into leadership roles). They do what they do for justice or for love. Anti-heroes play for high stakes. The difference between heroes and anti-heroes is, heroes know they are on the right side. The do the right thing because it is the right thing, their nobility springs from good intentions. Anti-heroes don’t give a shit. Most would be either appalled or dumbfounded that anyone would be so stupid as to think they are nice guys.
Which brings me to Eric Courtney, baddest of the bad boys, (anti)hero of Lewis’s Void City novels. I first met him in Staked and remember thinking, “Oh my God, why am I liking this guy?” He kills people. When he gets pissed off (or even slightly annoyed) heads roll–literally. Eric is a vampire. He hates other vampires. He pretty much hates all supernatural creatures. He wants to be left alone. When you’re an uber-vamp and pretty much the most powerful being on several planes of existence, other folks get a little obsessed with taking you down. Yeah, never a good idea.
And oh yeah, Eric is a horndog. So he has women problems, too. They fall in love with him, then they want to kill him.
Except for Greta, Eric’s daughter. Lewis pulled off a two-fer with Greta, a female anti-hero. Greta is a monster with a kick. She can figure out how to kill anybody, or anything. Greta would be just another monster, someone you’d hope would meet a gruesome and well-deserved end… except. Greta loves her daddy.
“So you love him,” Scrytha shouted. “Unconditionally. So what! Love does not conquer all!”
But I didn’t need love to conquer all. I only needed love to conquer her.
Anti-heroes remind us that there is always something bigger than ourselves. Good manners, societal norms, convention, rules. In the great scheme of things, those are petty. The important stuff, the big things–love, loyalty, justice–sometimes it takes a real kick-ass, badass to point out that those are the only things that really matter.
Lest you think I’m getting too philosophical and lofty, Lewis is a funny, funny writer, too.
If you like vampires, action, blood, magically murderous Mustangs, guts, grue, gore, sex, belly laughs and amazement at how inventive and wildly imaginative story-telling can be, check out the Void City novels. Start at the beginning with Staked, then follow Eric’s bad-assery with Revamped, Crossed and finally Burned.
What about you, readers? Do you have a fondness for the real bad boys? Let me know who your favorite anti-heroes are.
Burned, by J. F. Lewis, available in paperback and ebook
Discovered: author is on my must-buy list
Purchased: January 31, 2012, $7.99 ebook
CAUTION: This post contains rough language. There is no BLEEP button. So if you are offended by colorful swears, you will be highly offended. If you happen to like being offended, hop over to Chuck Wendig’s blog, terrible minds, and you’ll find fodder for many hours of offensive pleasure.
A Google search turned up the factoid that double dead meat is called “botcha” or sometimes “hot meat” in the Philipines.
#2. Vampires are bad. Just ask them.
“You kidding me?” He laughed. “Sweet little girl, what did you think you were getting, exactly? You asked a wolf to protect the sheep. I’m equal parts serial killer and demon from Hell. I’m not, uhh–” He tried to think of something opposite of that, some polar example.
“What the fuck is a Big Bird?”
#3. Zombies are very, very nasty. Can’t ask them, but you can smell them.
One of them–let’s just say it, he thought, it’s an undead motherfucking, smells-like-a-roadkilled-possum-stuffed-with-gorgonzola-cheese asshole zombie prick–lay against the ledge.
#4. Zombies bad, vampires worse, zombie-vampires = you are so screwed.
She bit down on his chest. Those teeth tore clean through the leather. He felt her tongue–rough like the wrong end of a cheese grater–stick deep into the wound. The bitch is drinking my blood, he thought.
#5. Insane Clown Posse might not be the best role models, especially if you value proper spelling.
YOU BEST BE DOWN WIT DA CLOWN
THUGLOW IS KING
NUTT IN UR PINK EYE
THUGLOW SHANK YOU VATO
#6. There are good reasons why gluttony is a deadly sin.
Then she sucked the tongue into her own mouth and started to chew. The cannibal’s French kiss, she thought, and felt a bubble of giddiness rise inside her.
The tongue was tough–not unusual, really. No fat on the tongue. All meat and muscle. Were you to cook it, you’d cook it long and low and slow, but now she did not have that luxury. She bit down hard–
And in the process, bit into her own cheek.
She tasted blood.
The tongue between her teeth–not hers, but his–wiggled.
#7. Self-sacrifice leads to redemption; sacrificing others leads to…
“Now maybe you know where this story is going, maybe you don’t, but like people used to say on the Internet when there was an Internet: spoiler warning, this is how the zombie apocalypse was born.”
Wonderfully written, wildly inventive, gruesome, gory and funny as hell, Double Dead has earned a spot in my list of favorite zombie novels.
Double Dead by Chuck Wendig, available on Amazon.
Anyone else have a book they love to reread? I have a few that are like literary comfort food, or a visit with an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time. Robin McKinley’s, Sunshine, is one of my rereads. The copy I have now is getting so tattered the spine is almost unreadable. It’s my third copy of the book. Looks like I’m due for a fourth.
I just reread it again. The urge to do so came up when I made a comment on my other blog about literary smackdowns. The question I asked:
You’re going to your twentieth high school reunion and you need to show those noodleheads how well you’ve done for yourself. Which vampire is your escort? Eric Northman (Charlaine Harris) or Constantine (Robin McKinley)?
My pick: Constantine.
Robin McKinley would be so horribly insulted. Here is what she has to say about Constantine:
“But . . . Con isn’t handsome. This is important. It’s important enough to me anyway that I’m risking shooting myself in the foot about it. Even almost-ten years ago when I was writing SUNSHINE, which was before the colossal burst of vampirature, before urban fantasy turned into its own dare I say monster genre, I was pulled by this particular story partly because the undeniable draw between Con and Sunshine is not based on the standard sexy powerful-male tropes. He’s powerful and enigmatic all right, but the kind that makes you want to throw up. That’s the point. As soon as you say ‘powerful, handsome and enigmatic’ you’ve turned it into some other story, with Con as Mr Rochester or Colin Firth.‡‡‡ He’s a VAMPIRE. Vampires are monsters. Vampires are undead monsters, as in ewwww. In the McKinley version anyway, vampires are very, very, very icky. ‘I didn’t realise till it raised its head with a liquid, inhuman motion that it was another vampire. . . . Overall he looked . . . spidery. Predatory. Alien. Nothing human except that he was more or less the right shape. . . . Vampire skin looks like hell in sunlight, by the way. Maybe bursting into flames is to be preferred. . . . I waited a moment longer before I turned to look at him. Vampire. Dangerous. Unknowable. Seriously creepy. . . .’ Part of the strength of the connection between Sunshine and Con is that everything about each of them except their connection is trying to drag them away from each other.
Con is not handsome. If you met him, you’d burst into tears and wet yourself.”
The thing is, she’s right, but I also disagree. I think Constantine is a wonderfully romantic character and every time I read the book, I fall in love with him all over again.
Which is actually pretty strange since I do agree with Robin that vampires are terrifying and icky.
The first book I remember terrifying me was Dracula, by Bram Stoker. I was about eight when I read it and I had to look up a lot of words in the dictionary, but I got the gist of it. It may have made me wet myself. I know it gave me nightmares. What scared me then, and what scares me now, is not the monsters and chases and battles and wolves and scary fogs. It’s the idea that a vampire could make you yearn for and demand your own destruction. “Yes. I will open my window and invite you in and bare my throat and let you suck the life out of me.” Worse, even worse, doing that would get you turned into a monster, too. Temptation is terrifying.
Which is why Constantine is such a wonderful character. The theme of the book (or at least what I’ve taken away from it) is the question: Are you who they say you are? Or are you who you are determined to be? The heroine struggles throughout to be her mother’s daughter, a perfectly normal baker, lacking any of the magic from her father’s side of the family. Even though Con is a vampire, and an extremely powerful and dangerous vampire at that, he has chosen his own path. He doesn’t spell out exactly what that means, but you can guess that it means he doesn’t kill humans or otherwise act evil.
For example this passage from a scene where Sunshine and Con are being held captive in an old mansion. Both are shackled. Con’s enemy wants to break Con by forcing him to kill and eat a human. He is, when Sunshine is captured, starving, tormented, and stubborn.
I hadn’t realized I’d started crying. My long-ago, lost life. The tears were running– pouring– down my cheeks.
And suddenly the vampire moved toward me. I froze, thinking, Oh no, and at last, and okay, at least my last thoughts are about everybody at the coffeehouse, but all he did was hold one of his big hands under my chin, so the tears would fall into his palm. I cried now from fear and anticipation as well as loss and sorrow, and my tears had made quite a little pool before I stopped. I stopped because I was too tired to go on, and my whole head felt squashy. I suppose I should have been flipping out. He was right next to me. He hadn’t moved again. When I stopped crying he lowered his hand and said calmly, “May I have your tears?” I nodded, bemused, and very precisely and carefully, he touched my face with the forefinger of his other hand, wiping up the last drips. I was so braced for worse I barely noticed that this time a vampire really had touched me.
He moved back against the wall before he licked the wet finger and then drank the little palmful of salt water. I didn’t mean to stare, but I couldn’t help it.
He wouldn’t have had to say anything. Maybe he’d liked the story of my life. “Tears,” he said. “Not as good as…” a really ugly ominous pause here “…but better than nothing.”
Time after time throughout the story Con is given good reasons to act like an evil vampire. Time after time he chooses not to. Because he is not evil, he has the strength of character to resist the evil inherent to vampires. He transcends his nature.
How irresistible is that?
Eric Northman, Charlaine Harris’s vampire is sexy and occasionally adorable, but he’s vampire-lite compared to Constantine. Constantine would kick Eric’s ass into next week. I love the Sookie books (most of them anyway) but I enjoy them because of Sookie Stackhouse. The whole sex with vampires thing is (to borrow Robin’s description) icky. Harris writes a rousing good sex scene, but I have to turn off the thought that is a cold, dead guy Sookie is boinking, otherwise I get creeped out.
Don’t click to look inside, run over to Amazon and check it out.