Confessions of my Past, Present and Future
There’s something very Wellsian about this “Confessions” format, the idea of going back in time to consider literary favorites, returning to the present to discuss current reads, and then jumping back in the time machine to travel to an imagined (and potentially post-apocalyptic?) future. And since H.G. Wells remains a favorite of mine, this confessional structure is especially fun. What a great opportunity to dig into the past for novels that have influenced me and share authors I love. Thanks for joining me on this journey. Caution: there may be Morlocks ahead!
Herbert George Wells was the Michael Crichton of his time, deftly integrating science and social criticism in his fiction. While Jules Verne used technology to paint foreign landscapes (the moon, the center of the earth, the depths of the ocean, etc.), Wells used science to further explore our day-to-day world. Wells examined societal trends like national security, classism, evolution, colonialism, and even climate change through the lens of science. By extrapolating these trends, he augured a fairly horrific future for the human race in books like The Time Machine and War of the Worlds.
The Time Machine is a classic. Before it, there were very few, if any, stories providing for directed time travel through a machine. No, time travel occurred via dreams/hypnosis, through the assistance of ghosts, angels, or fairies, or via suspended animation (Rip Van Winkle) prior to Wells. It’s no wonder his term “time machine” stuck, becoming universally accepted in literature, film, and theoretical discussions.
Similarly, War of the Worlds turned Martian fiction upon its head. Prior to its publication, Martian society was viewed as utopian (see A Plunge into Space and Unveiling a Parallel). Wells, though, re-imagined the creatures as (literal) blood-sucking imperialists. The monsters didn’t recognize the white flag of truce, polluted (the black smoke) like unrestricted third world corporations, and even introduced invasive species (the red weed). Fortunately for the human race, the Martians had very poor immune systems.
I’m such a Wells fan, I felt compelled to pay homage to him in my own stories. The Time Machine, for instance, gets nods in my novel Freaks Anon. One of the characters, a teacher, disparagingly refers to his spoon-fed students as “Eloi.” And in hindsight, I must have been channelling the deformed Morlocks when detailing the early evolution of plague survivors in the short story Monument.
Freaks Anon also references War of the Worlds. At one point, the protagonist, Centurion, hallucinates about the deadly tripods:
Wells was one of the first writers that I know of that designed his stories based upon scientific constructs. That fascinated me when I was younger and continues to inform the literature I read. Would there be a Michael Crichton without Wells? Would Richard Matheson’s I am Legend resonate as much? I suspect the answer to both questions is, “No,” but I can state affirmatively that without Wells, I wouldn’t have started writing fiction. He inspired my reliance on biology, chemistry, and astronomy to drive my stories.
For example, here’s an excerpt from Freaks Anon describing the science behind shape shifting:
A non sequitur: I’m also a big fan of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Whether you’re a naïve kid or a jaded adult (or a jaded kid/naïve adult), the book is pretty magical. Don’t let the movies predispose you.
Honorable mentions: Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk (ghost, witchcraft, and comedy), Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow (noir and werewolves), and Hot Zone by Richard Preston (nonfiction masquerading as the scariest Stephen King novel ever). Real mash-ups, these books taught me that novels don’t need to fit exclusively into a single genre.
I just started Red Queen, the sequel to Christina Henry’s best-selling Alice.
Let me preface this by saying I’m not a huge fan of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It’s not that I have anything against the nonsense genre, I just didn’t like the narrative structure or pacing. So why would I read not only one but two sequels? In full disclosure, the author lives down the street from me, and my bulldog, Rodrick, is a big fan of her son. That, though, is just the entry point. I wouldn’t be touting this series if I didn’t like it. And it’s not just me. The reviews of Alice and The Red Queen have been glowing.
In Alice, Alice and fellow inmate Hatcher (the Mad Hatter) escape a mental institution. They’re down the rabbit hole again, this time searching for the evil Jabberwock…and revenge. But this is not Carroll’s Wonderland. It’s a much darker place full of criminals and magicians, and both conspire against Alice.
Henry’s Alice is an elevation, both upon her Black Wings series and upon Carroll’s original. Her character building and dialog are really unparalleled. She’s maintained her trademark wit and world-building skill, but has developed a narrative gravitas that makes the story much more urgent, so much more visceral. This is no small feat, improving as a writer and taking on something so potentially volatile as sequel to Alice in Wonderland. She has imbued the classic with new life. And based upon what I’ve read so far, Red Queen looks to continue in the vein of Alice.
Another recent read, Michael Wehunt’s Greener Pastures is a pretty remarkable collection of short stories. Wehunt eschews the typical horror tropes (final girls, serial killers, and haunted houses) and embraces the weird. Even his weaker stories (and that’s a relative term) work based on the strength of his writing. Like Henry, he makes me want to be a better writer. Short of Toby Barlow’s Sharp Teeth, there aren’t many recent authors that can make you feel that way.
And in the “to read” pile? Stephen Graham Jones’ Mongrels, Paul Huggin’s Rabid Dawn, John Boden’s Jedi Summer, and plenty more.
What will I be reading and writing in 2045.
We’re entering a pretty neat period for horror fiction. Authors are no longer predisposed to writing “pure horror.” They’re challenging themselves. Horror is moving into new territories, absorbing other genres like a monster in a Carpenter movie as it goes. As this blending and evolution continues, traditional horror classifications may become a “Thing” (insert punch line rim shot) of the past.
It’s hard to say what the next twenty years hold for me, but I hope what I read and write continues to frustrate easy classification. I’m a notoriously slow writer, probably because I spend about half of the process researching and learning about what it is I’m writing. I’m also a believer in intense editing (“killing your darlings,” etc.), and that takes time. The writing process for me is like putting together a vast puzzle. At the end of it, you hope you’ve been able to put all the jigsaw pieces together.
The key for me is to continue writing books that I’d like to read. Finding subject matter shouldn’t be too tough as my interests are pretty expansive: pathology, mythology, music, the paranormal, biology, futurism, string theory/parallel universes, law, etc. Yes, I’m all over the place. When I can, I want to continue to donate proceeds to charity as I’m doing with Freaks Anon.
Anyway, this all means that I’ll have just seven or so novels under my belt by the time 2045 arrives. I better get cracking!
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Matt Darst’s childhood addiction to reading took a turn for the worst when he started writing…for fun. His experimentation with notebooks (a classic gateway) led to dabbling with typewriters. Soon he was hitting the hard stuff: word processors.
After law school, he decided to straighten out his life. He went cold turkey. He got a responsible job, a place in Chicago, and a dog. He surrounded himself with all the trappings of a normal life. Still…
Pen and pad call to Matt late at night, cooing his name, telling him to take another hit of fiction. Sometimes, when he’s weak, he heeds the siren call of the drug. He wakes from each blackout amid reams of freshly written pages, pages that have seemingly written themselves.
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