Today’s opening act is a left-over I forgot to include in that last post: a bit of flesh sculpture I was not allowed to show off in “Pones & Bones” because it would have risked spoiling a yet-to-be-aired episode of “Hannibal”. That episode recently aired, though, so the embargo is lifted. Behold: the hoofed, flayed, and headless wonder that I have christened Hoofnibal, both under construction at Mindwarp workshop (right) and during its formal debut during the episode “Primavera” (below) .
I would like to emphasize that there is no CGI in the sequence: Will’s hallucination is a puppet, moving in real time on the set. Let’s hear it for Practical FX.
More to the point, though: Let’s also hear it for The BUG!
A wee bit of background. Early in our courtship, Caitlin Sweet referred to me as “A DOOFUS” (the caps are hers). Stung, I could only reply “That’s Dr. Doofus to you, Unicorn Girl“— which was a not-too-subtle reminder that I write hard-as-nails SF while she writes fluffy rainbow fantasy.
The thing is, though, Caitlin does not write fluffy rainbow fantasy. The only rainbows you’re likely to see in her novels are those that swirl across the oily film on an open sewer. The Pattern Scars begins with its protagonist, a young girl called Nola, going into a trance at the sight of a bloodstain; the next day her mother sells her to the local brothel as a seer. It gets worse from there. (Oh, it seems to get better for a little while. It seems to get suspiciously, unbelievably better, even. But no. Way worse.) I like to think of myself as Captain Stoneface when it comes to my emotional vulnerability to most fiction; I literally teared up at the end of The Pattern Scars.
Caitlin turns tropes inside out. The Pattern Scars, at its heart, is an inversion of the Cassandra myth: instead of a seer whose truthful prophecies are never believed, Caitlin gives us one doomed to prophesy lies which are always accepted as gospel. The Door in the Mountain— part one of a two-parter which concludes with the imminent The Flame in the Maze— retells the Theseus myth through the eyes of an Ariadne who (in a bizarro twist on the sweet hapless innocence of her archetype) is a manipulative sadist driven by rage and jealousy. The supporting cast might best be described as the twisted love-children of Davids Lynch and Cronenberg (Icarus and Daedalus are two personal favorites). Caitlin is way closer to Martin than to Tolkien; the last thing you can call her is “Unicorn Girl”.
Which is, of course, exactly why she enthusiastically embraced the term the moment she saw it (although the official acronym is BUG— Beloved Unicorn Girl— because “UG” lacks the appropriate resonance. Also: Bed BUG).
My point is: Caitlin’s stuff is gritty, gorgeous, and unsentimental. If it contains anything even approaching cliché, you can be assured that that element exists only to be subverted or blown from the water at a later date. She does not do happy endings; the most you’ll get is an ambiguous one.
All of which means she’s not the kind of fantasy author the YA market is likely to swoon over. I think we’ve both lost count of the agents and publishers who’ve turned her down with some variant of You’re a brilliant, brilliant writer but your protagonist is so unlikeable: can’t you make her more like Hermione from Harry Potter?
No. No she can’t, you fucking idiots. She does not write to market. She has never once said I’m going to add a perky sidekick so the popcorn set doesn’t get away. All that matters to the BUG, when she’s writing, is whether the story works the way it’s supposed to. Whether it meets her standards.
And so her stuff gets ignored. Teenyboppers who stumble across it in search of the latest medieval fantasy with a plucky female protagonist scratch their heads and leave, their stomachs vaguely unsettled. When critics find it, they rave; but that doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should.
So I am very glad to point out that Caitlin Sweet’s The Door in the Mountain is a finalist for the Sunburst Award, YA category. That category, I think, is misplaced; but the recognition is not. It is, to put not too fine a point on it, About Fucking Time. And I can say this without fear of vote-skewing, because the award is juried.
Yeah, of course I’m biased. Of course she’s my wife. But she wasn’t always.
Why do you think I fell in love with her in the first place?