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Massacres in Light Fiction?

I only have about three more chapters to write on my novel Jim and the Flims. Right now, our hero Jim Oster has been loaded up with ten thousand jiva eggs—the jivas being some nasty aliens who want to invade Earth. The cartoonist Jim Woodring designed the original models of jivas that inspired me.

[Image of painting, “Jivas,” by Jim Woodring, 2008, which recently sold for $1200 at the Comic Art Collective.]

In the part of my book that I’m writing now, Jim Oster is in Santa Cruz, California, with all those eggs about to pop out of him and find human hosts. The jiva eggs want to get inside living humans, there to incubate and grow—and later to emerge as a grown jivas, which have the general appearance of flying beets with a long snaky tails.

Now, originally, I was assuming that it kills you to host a jiva. I thought you’d be like being a paralyzed caterpillar with a wasp larva growing inside you.

[Part of a broken Woodring-made toy with cacti.]

But then I realized that if Jim’s eggs go into ten thousand of the citizens of Santa Cruz, then that many people will killed by the lethal practice of hosting a jiva larva. That’s ten thousand deaths out of Santa Cruz’s population of fifty thousand.

“Oh well!” was my initial line of thought. “Can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs!”

I was taking a kind of prankish delight at the thought of depicting mass destruction in Santa Cruz. The town is like a second home to me, by the way, and I love it dearly…but it seems like a great locale for disaster scenes.

I was also thinking that if ten thousand people died, then I could have a scene of Jim confronting all those dead souls at once, and that would be dramatic. And I was imagining the new ghosts moving into a new tract-home-style development in the afterworld, a place called Nueva Santa Cruz.

But yesterday I decided not to decimate the population of Santa Cruz after all. I think some readers would be turned off to encounter a mass die-off in what’s meant to be a fairly light-hearted novel—it would bring them down, and my goal is to show my readers a good time. A massacre like that hangs up the story-flow. People start brooding over it. And I’d prefer to to keep things bouncing.

So I’m putting in some mumbo-jumbo about the jivas having tweaked the egg-in-human-body routine so that the latter-day Jivaic saints of Santa Cruz can carry their alien spawn to term without lethal effects.

I love how flexible things are in SF. Give people a floating log to hang onto, and they’re willing to go with the flow, and right over a waterfall if that’s to be part of the fun. It’s like that poster of a UFO that was in agent Mulder’s office in the X Files with the caption: I WANT TO BELIEVE. (Click here for the history of this poster.) I always loved that slogan, it really gets to the heart of what ufology and science fiction are all about.

11 Responses to “Massacres in Light Fiction?”

  1. Brendan Says:

    Hey Rudy. I kind of like the disparity between the one-fifth massacre and the light-hearted tone. Keep it! You’ve certainly pulled it off before…

  2. MK Says:

    Interesting that you like the X-Files poster. Maybe I’m looking at it in the wrong way, but the “I want to believe” slogan has always bothered me. It seems anti-science and even dangerous.

  3. Rudy Says:

    Thanks, Brendan and MK.

    Brendan, nah, I’m not doing the massacre. It wouldn’t feel right in this particular book. The guy’s mission is to resurrect his dead wife, and if he (albeit inadvertently) causes the death of 10K Cruzans, that undermines it too much. I’m not sure I ever actually HAVE killed off a lot of people in one of my stories, by the way. Maybe I’m forgetting something. Certainly a lot of the bopper robots died at the end of WETWARE, but they’re not exactly people. Everyone on Earth dies in my 2008 or 2009 short story collaboration with Bruce Sterling, “Colliding Branes,” but that’s an end-of-the-world story…

    MK, I’m not saying I “like” the X-Files poster in the sense of “endorse, approve of.” I really am not a UFO believer, although I can sympathize with the motivations for the beilef. I’m not really interested in attacking UFOlogy, it seems harmless, unlike certain political beliefs.

    I do think the X-Files poster a very effective and shorthand way of expressing why some people do choose to believe in UFOS. They have nothing else at the core of their lives to believe in…and they want to believe in SOMETHING…and UFOs fille the hole. Others fill the hole with religion, patriotism, family, sports, art…

    In any case there IS some kind of hole in each of us that we want to fill. And science is often not enough. It goes only so far. In general, I thing science is correct about things, but there’s always that residue, that awareness that there’s more to life than logical facts, and I like to remember the ever-shining White Light within each of us.

  4. MK Says:

    Rudy, I understand what you’re saying about people wanting something to believe in. But in the context of the show, the slogan could seem akin to the rallying cry of a religious fanatic, someone who wants to maintain a certain belief no matter what. In other words, Mulder often appears more interested in making sure the answer is UFOs/gov’t. conspiracy than he is in impartially seeking the truth.

    That last point is tricky, however, because the writers stacked the deck — Mulder was always right to suspect ETs, bigfoot, etc., and Scully (and Occam) were always wrong to suspect a more likely cause.

    You could read this two ways: (1) desire and belief are better guides than rationalism; or (2) science can be wrong and doesn’t hold all the answers: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio . . . .”

    How about a poster that says “I want to keep an open mind”?

    In any case, I think your reading of the poster is a lot more interesting and less reductive than mine.

  5. Brendan Says:

    Oh, I meant the abrupt tone-change leading to willful, yet pleasant disorientation, not necessarily the body count. I’m thinking about The Hollow Earth, which kept breaking its romp-like tone with bleak interludes (keeping in tune with the times and the Poe influence, of course.) But yeah, I see your point. Three chapters to go, huh? Looking forward to it.

  6. Alex Says:

    When it comes to UFOs, I think your Saucer Wisdom is best take I ever read.
    Especially the introduction, when you discuss your reasons for writing the book.
    That book must have the highest ratio of ideas to page numbers ever!

  7. paradoctor Says:

    Yeah, lose the massacre. The tweak sounds a bit lame, but maybe you can make a comical turn out of it. For instance, the jivas could feed on their host’s materialism, and thus turn them into altruistic saints. Eat away their egos until they’re egoless and enlightened. A win-win!

  8. 7 Says:

    That’s a good question, paradoctor — why would the jivas bother to tweak the routine so as not to kill the human hosts? Why would they care if the human hosts died?

  9. Rudy Says:

    Paradoctor and 7: The jivas are quite practical and reasonable, albeit opportunistic. They’d just as soon not destroy the human hosts, as then later they might be able to use the humans in other ways. It’s akin to the fact that you don’t go ahead and slaughter a family if they let you stay at their house for a night—it’s better to have a good relationship with them, and maybe stay there again!

    As for the jivas eating the human’s egos or materialism, Paradoctor, that’s an interesting thought, and I may yet work it in. Maybe hosting the jivas makes the Santa Cruzans even MORE Santa Cruzan…

  10. 7 Says:

    The human/jiva ( Juman? Hiva?) transhuman merge/hybrid consciousness is a fun idea.

  11. emilio Says:

    there are 10K people dying all the time, why not disperse the Jiva’s into 10,000 people in different places. Just takes a quantum hop. Seems like you want to deal with this death thing.

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