Tuesday, November 20

Hey. I have risen. Or something.

Got the following e-mail from some thoughtful fellow upon finishing BLADE, and it's led to some correspondence that I think fans of the Acts of Caine might find interesting. So I'm putting it up here.

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Hey, I finished Blade of Tyshalle and am rereading Heroes Die. I'm finding that the philosophies of Cainism resonate with the perspectives I use to act and am a bit curious as to whether you're planning on releasing a Cainist Philosophy book. Sort of seeing you as an Ayn Rand, with a book that shows your philosophies through characters and the potential for a more clear statement.


I don't know if that sort of thing would appeal to you, but I'm curious, so sue me.

-Peter.

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Hey.

No, BLADE OF TYSHALLE is itself my Cainist Philosophy book. Unlike Ms Rand, Cainism is descriptive, not prescriptive. It's not about how people should live, it's about how they do live, whether they want to or not. Caine's just the most extreme case . . . if you see what I mean.

And my philosophy isn't really my philosophy; it's (roughly speaking) a blend of Nietzschean perspectivism with classical Taoism, leavened with chaos theory. In other words (as some critics have pointed out), there's nothing particularly original about it. Which is okay with me, because I don't actually care about being original. I care about telling the truth as I see it, and about writing novels that people will want to read more than once . . . not necessarily in that order.

Thanks for your interest, and thanks for writing.


Matthew Woodring Stover
numquam desisto


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I think that's why I like it so much, it's a more real philosophy than most stuff I get smacked around with. More true to life instead of how things should be.

Aren't all philosophies just blends of ideas from before? Methinks you give yourself too little credit... or maybe this is the 'be humble in front of my fans' act. Either way, I like the ideas a lot. The chaos theory bit in particular.

Question; if your books aren't meant to be prescriptive, why do you pick a cast of characters? Heroes Die was all Caine, but showing a cast leads me to assume the people have something in common worth noting in your story. I know assumption is the first step into a shallow grave (or something like that), but how is it possible to write without being prescriptive while using more than one character?


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Hmm. Some readers might take the story as prescriptive: "You should act like Caine, and you'll always win," or "If you act like Caine, your victories will always cost more than they're worth," or whatever (gods help them if they do . . .). That's a factor of interpretation, which is not my business. My business is telling a story as honestly as I can, given the limitations of my subject matter and the limitations of my personal insight and authorial skill. I don't approach my characters from a moral stance, but from an esthetic one; in other words, I don't much care whether they're Good or Bad, only whether I Like 'Em or I Don't. My bias in that regard might be read as an implicit moral endorsement or moral condemnation of their behavior, but it is not intended that way. The things BLADE's characters have in common are not moral factors, but mythological ones.

As I implied in BLADE -- and stated explicitly in STAR WARS ON TRIAL -- interpretation is subjective. What anything means, as Caine says, depends on how you tell the story. It also depends on who's hearing/reading/watching it. A book, as I've said elsewhere, is nothing but words on a page. The actual novel is what happens inside your head when you read that book. If there's something you can take away from that experience that you feel deepens your understanding of your own life, then that's a bonus -- but it's not necessarily thanks to me; people can find things in books that the author had no intention of putting there. A novel (a good one, anyway) is like a shovel you can use to excavate your own mind . . . find the treasures buried in there, polish 'em a bit, then hold 'em up to see how much they sparkle . . .

Hey, would you mind very much if I posted this correspondence on my blog? I only update the damned thing every three or four months, and I think it's due.


Matthew Woodring Stover
numquam desisto

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I would be honored to be on your blog. Just high-fived my roommate at the very thought.

One more question. For now. :)

If you're telling a story that you like and I like it too, i assume we have something in common. Some sort of shared perspective or common sense of entertainment which gives us that commonality.

If we both like Caine because he does what we've always wanted to do (true or not) or at least wanted to see done, and you put it there, are you pulling a sort of Studio shield? I just give the people, myself included, what they say they want, and how they take it isn't what I did it for. I'm in it for the money, so to speak.

Not saying that the Studio is wrong, I can often empathize with the idea of wanting a shield, saying that when you write a story the way you do, true to life's inner forms, it's more likely to cater to the people who don't want a shield. They're the ones looking for sparkly things in their heads, instead of in their bodies. Dunno if you know what i mean by that.

The question of this mini-rant is; are the 'moral factors' what makes a story prescriptive (more likely to be insubstantial), or is the knowledge of the idea of potentially prescriptive elements in the mind of the reader a sort of lens which causes stories which could lead to the sort of digging we both like to lose their potency.

Basically, do we make 'superficial' stories that way because we've got a heuristic for it, or do they perpetuate their own demise?

Your fault, or mine?

If it's my fault, do you think that the people looking for jewels do so out of a trained impulse, like others looking for prescriptions, or out of a desire to find what really entertains them?

wow. lotsa questions there. Running on no sleep... sorry.

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I confess to not being entirely clear on the question. I'll do my best to answer what I THINK you're asking . . . then if I'm wrong, we can work it out from there.

The question, it seems to me, proceeds from a flawed premise: that our shared affection for the character of Caine proceeds from approval of his actions, and that this (presumed) approval translates into some sort of Kantian categorical imperative (which is something Cainism explicitly rejects -- see t'Passe's observation on sheep and wolves). I just don't see it that way. My affection for Caine (and that of most of his fans, I think) proceeds from what I would call a pre-moral stance, or even an anti-moral stance. It's a largely visceral reaction -- a hormone-driven one, I believe, with the dominant hormone being adrenaline, closely followed by testosterone. We like him because he gets us charged up . . . a reaction that takes place without regard to our moral sensibilities, whatever they may be.

Which is not to say he's without intellectual virtues or admirable qualities, but that's another discussion.

For the record, I DON'T give the people what they want. I give the people what I want. What the hypothetical people make of it, however, is inherently beyond my control. And I don't do it for the money (God knows!). I do it because I want to tell you a story that will keep you up at night . . . and maybe get you to spend some time, now and then, just thinking about your reaction to it.

I don't disavow responsibility for my readers' reactions, because much of what I write is intended to provoke reaction. I just can't control what that reaction will be, you follow? It's very much like Cainism itself: I control what I can control, and let the rest go. Because I have to; it's out of my hands.

In fact, I tend to disapprove of artists who insist on controlling your reaction to their work; that strikes me as crossing the line from art to propaganda. Ayn Rand would be a prime example, as would Steven Spielberg. We tend to find such things less objectionable when the points being hammered home are ones we already agree with . . . but I'm no great fan of the concept. I mean, when was the last time you re-read Aesop's Fables and found yourself thinking that "Geez, now that I'm older, I find myself kind of LIKING King Stork . . ."

I do think that readers who are looking for prescriptive elements in fiction are going to inherently miss some of the simple pleasures of reading -- because they're adding a layer of intellectual filtering that keeps them that much more removed from the immersive experience that good fiction should be.

I hope that no one's looking for jewels . . . because of that intellectual filtering thing, see? Besides, jewels sparkle all the more when you come upon them unexpectedly.

Again: I hope you find this response pertinent. If it isn't, please feel free to clarify your question.


Matthew Woodring Stover
numquam desisto

11 comments:

Adam said...

So I hear your next book (well, after the two I suppose you're currently working on: CBK and Mindor) will be totally outside of the genre you've always written in. What's up with that?

MWS said...

My next book following LUKE SKYWALKER AND THE SHADOWS OF MINDOR will be, unless Del Rey decides otherwise, the final Caine novel (of this contract, anyway).

I have been developing some out-of-genre stories meanwhile, in hope that I might be able to make a bit more money at another frequency in the literary spectrum.

Alex said...

I really hope that doesn't mean you are forsaking the Caine story/genre totally. For the sake of my desire to read more excellent fiction that makes me feel like I just ate a kitten, I'm going to make an assumption that the answer is no (I don't really know you personally, but that's my interpretation of your character. Anyway, much obliged sir.

Anonymous said...

Hello, Matthew.

Any your work speaks for itself and about everything. We wait continuations.

From Russia with love. And by impatience.

P.S I am sorry for to possible errors - have a very bad English
:))

MWS said...

Many thanks.

I'm going to allow the above post to remain, despite its "anonymous" nature, because we don't get too many Russians around here, and I want to make our new priyatel (is that the right word?) welcome.

Please don't anyone else take that as license to fail to sign your comments.

Tim said...

Living vicariously through Caine (and Jacen, to an extent) helped me come out of my cloisteredness that I had developed in my school years.

It's not even so much that I was like "Yeah, Caine's such a badass! Look at him beating people half to death!" The ideas espoused in your work helped form my ideas of how to be an adult.

Especially the passage from (I think) Blade, where it's said that the only thing about a man that matters is what he wants and what he's willing to do to get it. That was like a lightning bolt from God to me. It's led me to move cross country to get back into school, rather than rot in retail hell.

So, uh... thanks, Matt. I don't just read your books for kicks. They're pretty important to, I would imagine, many people like myself.

MWS said...

You're welcome. And thank you.

Sometimes I need to be reminded.

R.E. Anningson said...

Wow, I completely agree. The Caine novels have really shaped my personality and my outlook on life.

I've had a few copies of Blade, most of which were 'stolen' i.e. lent to friends and never returned. But I have two right now: my torn up copy that I read and my mint condition copy--the one that has passages that are important to me highlighted.

I want add a second voice to Tim's comment: Thank you, Matt.

Aaron said...

I hate to sound sycophantic, but they are right Matt. Your books have intrinsic value when compared with the dross. Never stop.

Rob Locke said...

Funny you mention that tim... I confess I've been motivated to go to the gym after reading a caine book.

Despite what Caine said in Blade... "Pain is natures way of saying 'Dont do that, dumbshit'"

Anonymous said...

Hello, dear realist-fantast maestro Mattew. And hello respected fans. We waiting book together to you. "Bread and circuses, Hary, Bread and circuses" - says Duncan, right?:)
Inspiration to you, mr. Stover.

От Вашего русского "priyatelа".