02 July, 2008

Don't Start a Religion in My Name!

Every novel comes with a standard disclaimer:

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either a product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

The disclaimer itself is a brilliant work of legal fiction. I think everybody knows by now that authors filch shamelessly from real life. Resemblances are far from coincidental. Everybody just pretends otherwise when it comes time to go to court.

That disclaimer shall have to be expanded when I publish my magnum opus:

This work of fiction is entirely made up (aside from those bits the author filched from real life, like the entire city of Seattle, WA), and should not be used as a manual, scripture, handbook or other guide to live your life by. No matter how much you make like and/or agree with the gods, spirits, xenospecies, characters, ideas, faiths, worldviews, etc. contained herein, any attempts to start a religion in the author's and/or characters' names is strictly prohibited. Willing suspension of disbelief should only be employed within the pages of this book. Critical faculties
should be fully utilized once the cover is closed. The author is not responsible for the havoc wreaked by over-enthusiastic fans and their inability to separate fictional reality from actual reality.

And if you attempt to name your children after the aliens, planets, offworld locales, ships, or other completely made up shit contained within this book, the author reserves the right to fetch you a right ding round the earhole on behalf of your humiliated offspring.

All right, so I'll need a lawyer to couch that in legalise, but you get the idea.

I seriously worry about this stuff, and with good reason. I've heard of the spate of Galadriels and Arawens that occurred after people read too much Lord of the Rings. I've seen the lines of folks dressed up in Star Wars gear, camped out for days waiting for the next giant turd George Lucas serves up. I knew a man who regularly wore his Star Trek: TNG captain's uniform and knew how to say "Take your ticket and get on the damned boat" in Klingon. The fact he worked for a boat rental outfit on Lake Powell and thus had good reason for learning that particular phrase is beside the point.

But the worst, absolute most horrifying, moment was when a college roommate perused my map of Athesea, plunked her finger down on it, and said, "If I have a son, I'm going to name him Daneth!"

I explained to her in no uncertain terms that no, she bloody well would not name her son after a valley on Athesea. No child should have to suffer the massive bullshit a name like that would bring down on him. After I explained the taunting, teasing, and incomprehension that poor child would likely endure, she agreed that Daneth was probably not a very good name for a boy after all.

But I can't be there for every fan. I can't tell each of them personally that while I'm flattered they loved my story so much they want to dress like my characters, learn their language, follow their gods, and destroy children's lives with names that sound wonderful in the book, if they do any of the aforementioned things, I shall be forced to beat some sense into them.

Some of it would be harmless, yes. We all have fun playing someone else for a while. It's just that I don't know how the hell I'd react at a book signing if faced with some poor dipshit dressed to the nines with two fake swords swinging from his or her hips, bubbling over with enthusiasm about how utterly awesome the Xtaleans are. And what people might do trying to imitate my Unicorns doesn't even bear thinking about. I'm either going to burst out laughing, sobbing, screaming, or all three.

I don't mind folks taking inspiration from what I write. Some of the issues I write about, I'd love it if that's the way the world worked. If my book inspires some people to give up their fear of teh gays, stop killing each other over religion, and treat the planet with more respect, that's fantastic. That's part of what I'd like them to think more about. Fiction is, after all, a way of telling the truth through lies. You can learn a lot about yourself, fellow humans, and the world by approaching it through the eyes of fictional characters.



I do not, repeat not, want to hear that the Church of Scientology suddenly has a rival based off a novel by Dana Hunter.

I don't want to hear about people worshipping Tarlah, because a) he's a construct of my mind and b) he's not even a bloody god nor c) a bloody he, when it comes right down to it.

And there's going to be at least one person who swears up and down they've heard my message and they're prepared for the secret war against Sha'daal. I can see that one coming ten thousand miles away. After all, I hung about with a guy in high school who thought Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series wasn't so much excellent fantasy as concise history. OMFG. Shoot me now.

So I'm putting this out here now, so that I can refer the wankers who can't separate fantasy from reality back here before I try to bash some sense back into them with a three-pound hardcover book. I want them to read the following sentence carefully:

Do not under any circumstances mistake fiction for reality.

My characters can and should seem real. My worlds can and should seem like actual places. That's what the willing suspension of disbelief is all about. But they aren't bleeding real.

And it shall go very hard for any reader who believes otherwise.

Do any of you other fiction writers in the audience ever worry about this kind of shit?


Anonymous said...

In case you haven't read this yet... spooky coincidence!

george.w said...

I dunno, I am watching Season 2 of Battlestar Galactica and was blathering on at length this morning to my poor wife about how tremendously relevant it all is to our current war, issues of torture, Abu Gharib, Guantanamo, dignity, racism, and the determination not to use war as an excuse for just any sort of barbarity whatever.


Josh said...

Well, you could get bloody rich if they do...

Although, I wonder what your stance is regarding what george.w said. When I write a story, part of me is hoping that what I'm writing will challenge the reader to think about things beyond the story. Whether they gain a new perspective about current events, or think consider philosophy, or perhaps even gain a bit of introspection.

george.w said...

Well she did say she'd be OK with people taking inspiration from her work. I left the impression of having missed that part, or about telling truth through lies. If I could get George Bush to watch that episode and compare himself to Admiral Cain, it would be a breakthrough. But he'd probably think Cain was the hero of that storyline.

Anonymous said...

And here I was so looking forward to going to your island world and pondering the facts of life. Way to ruin my fantasies Dana. ;)

Anonymous said...

I honestly don't think I would have a problem with people dressing up as my characters, but then again, I've been to anime conventions before. Holding reasoned and logical discussions with someone carrying a giant foam improbable weapon and wearing a skin-tight suit with pieces of metal attached in strange places comes naturally to me now... as natural as it can be, really.

But I'll agree on you with the thinking-it's-real stuff. That's just crazy. And I'll probably just shake my head and ask them to please, reconsider if they're naming their child after a character. That would simply be nuts. There's a kid named Sephiroth, or so the urban legend goes. If I meet that kid, I will buy him some good liquor. Because there's no way to get rid of that sting. It feels like the only question that you can ask there is "Did... do your parents hate you?"

I hope that nobody will do that. The thought fills me with dread. I might have to steal that disclaimer from you. <.<

Woozle said...

Of course, what immediately springs to my little mind is the immortal Python quote: "In what manner shall we fuck off, o Lord?"

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george.w said...

I had a friend who was so fixated on Star Trek that he couldn't hold a steady job. He drove everyone nuts.

He made his own costumes, and they were awesome because he had lots of time. Battlestar costumes too - the original series with Lorne Greene since this was long before the current one.

No idea where he is now. Hopefully working his dream job working in the prop department at Paramount, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Efrique said...

Only the true messiah denies her divinity.

And I see I've been beaten by woozle who has already quoted the same movie.

Why is naming a kid Arwen (say) any sillier than naming kids after other fictional characters (Adam, Solomon, David, Saul, Timothy, Simon, Joseph, Mary, Rebecca, etc etc ad infinitum)?

At least Arwen wasn't a deluded nutcase in the service of a genocidal maniac, like a number of those others...

Cujo359 said...

Actually, George.W, Battlestar Galactica will get a whole lot more interesting when you start watching Season 3.

I've often observed that watching Babylon 5 was great preparation for understanding what's going on now. Of course, living through Vietnam and reading Solzhenitsyn was, too. Great literature teaches you lessons by making you think. BSG and B5 were like that.

It's possible to take it all too seriously, of course. That's one of the reasons I've never been interested in religion very much. People read way more into what are basically fables or folk tales. What do I get from the story of Noah's ark? It's important to recognize disaster approaching, and be prepared for it. Probably the first time someone told that story, that's what he had in mind. Now, people are still looking for an ark somewhere in the Middle East, because finding it will renew peoples' "faith".

Blake Stacey said...

So, you know how there's always a person at a Q&A session who has a speech instead of a question? And you know how a writer like, say, Neil Gaiman is going to have a fan who thinks that American Gods is proof that astrology works?

Well, imagine that they are the same person.

You did not have to be a telepath to sense the "Oh, bugger and fuck" which rose from the minds of the twelve-hundred-strong audience that night. . . .

I'm with efrique on the naming business. As far as people taking what I write in ways I did not intend, well, I don't have much control over that; what's more, I think there's a difference between naming your child after a fictional character because you and your fellow parent both appreciate the book and doing so because you think it's real. It's a bit of a stretch, but anybody willing to raise a child with me — small set, I know — would at least consider naming our daughter Lyra. Or, let's see, Fiona or Arcadia.

A friend of mine, who had recently read a rough draft of my SF novel, e-mailed me to say that she was getting her second Sandman tattoo. I wrote back, jokingly, to say I was hurt she went for Gaiman's writing instead of mine, to which she replied that the tattoos I had given one character did get her thinking, and if she did find something in a friend's story which she could get drawn on herself, she'd be delighted. I have to say: I like that a lot.

george.w said...

I sometimes amuse myself with the thought that bible stories are the ancient equivalent of today's movies: just entertaining stories told around the fire, never intended to be taken seriously. And that the Abrahamic religions are the product of overheated fanboys...