If science fiction is the metaphorical engine that lets all kinds of clever kids with RSS feeds of New Scientist and BoingBoing write about our glorious nano-pr0ned future as a way to really write about the present, what the hell does that make fantasy?
When I starting writing fiction, if you’d told me that I’d end up writing fantasy and liking it, I would have laughed, punched you in the balls and stolen your lunch money. Partly because I wanted your money, but partly because it was common knowledge that only little girls, mental defectives and Plushie unicorn fuckers got anywhere near fantasy. I was a space age boy who grew up sure and certain that he’d be an astronaut or, at least, the first guy to shoot porn on Mars, probably with the leggy descendants of Valentina Tereshkova.
But nothing turned out the way it was supposed to. The space age got the needle right after we landed to the moon and the Russians had to pawn their stainless steel teeth just to keep the lights on. We never got our jetpacks or hovercrafts, never ate dinner in little pills or went out for smokes in cool silver jumpsuits. Real girls never really got their hair cut like the space hotties in the Brit SF snoozer, UFO. All right, Angelina Jolie sort of had the cut in Hackers, but she was the only one and her hair is the only memorable thing in the flick.
No, I was a scientific boy who didn’t believe in fairies, magic or myths. All school ever taught me about the old Greek and Roman tales was that they seemed to be about a bunch of dudes in dresses who lived on a mountain, were catty to each other and nasty to the girls, but who came to Earth every now and then for some hot swan-on-peasant bestiality.
So, how did I end up writing fantasy?
I blame Andre Breton and George Bush 2.0.
Breton was the puffed-up Chairman Mao of the Surrealist movement, an art group that aspired to “place the visible at the service of the invisible.” The Surrealists championed irrational thought and chaotic mind states as keys to creativity. Most contemporary boneheads think that Surrealist painters painted their dreams. Wrong. What they wanted was art that would induce a state of dreaming. They wanted to create pre-digital steampunk irrationality machines.
Along with small pox-infected blankets, Low Intensity Warfare and drinkable donuts (Damn you, Krispie Kreme), George Bush may be the worst thing the US has ever given the world. But I owe George something. When he and his fundamentalist buddies seized the White House in probably the most boring political coup in history, I wanted to know who they were. They believed in the Bible literally, that the Earth was six thousand years old and that the devil really was hiding under your bed. They were demon-obsessed primitives in twenty first century drag. They were Breton’s irrationalist Surrealists made creepy, boring and sexless.
When I wanted to understand God’s golden boys, I started reading up on Christian history. In 325, Emperor Constantine invited all the kingpins of the various Christian franchises over for brunch and wouldn’t let them leave until they’d invented a single, marketable version of Jesus Inc. This is important because the moment you decide what toys get into your playpen, you also decide what don’t. That got me reading the heretical books tossed out of the Christian canon and once you start drunk stumbling down that particular, sticky, yellow piss road you know exactly what’s waiting for you at the end of the line—the Devil.
Satan is the most obvious, cheap-ass carny gaff since the Fiji Mermaid. Old school Lucifer, the guy who tortured Job to test his faith, with God egging him on the whole time, was a prick, but he wasn’t scary enough to control huge populations scattered around the planet. You needed a soul swallower for that. A fire-breathing jungle Terminator that would steal your car, fuck your girlfriend, drink all your beer and then demand handjobs and cigarettes until the end of time. Sort of like the Bush administration. Dark magic, but devoid of the gut-grabbing beauty you find in Dante or Bosch’s paintings.
I’ve never thought of any of my work as particularly “dark.” I don’t know what “dark” means in a post-Gitmo world. When I was very young, my mother read me fairy tales in bed. When I worked in a bookstore, I got to read Naked Lunch and Ballardian medical texts on rare diseases and car crash injuries. In LA, I discovered crime writers like Jim Thompson and directors like Sergio Leone. All these things are the same to me, part of a Surrealist continuum. What you call “dark” is what I see outside my window. Cholos, angels, the old lady with the Sphinx cats, the Hubble Telescope and zombies are my neighbors. I like it here.
That’s why I write fantasy and why I wrote Sandman Slim. I’m a space age boy who grew up to live with and love monsters.
– originally published 7/23/2009
New York Times bestselling author of the Sandman Slim series. He also writes comics and takes pictures.