8FOLD: Doomed Romance # 3

Tom Russell milos_parker at yahoo.com
Mon Jan 21 15:33:43 PST 2008

On Jan 21, 2:04 pm, "Saxon Brenton" <Saxon.Bren... at uts.edu.au> wrote:

> Hmm.  That was intriguing.  But I'm not sure it was for the reasons intended.
> The 'story hook' that kept me reading was at first 'is this guy a total
> cad?'.  And then when it became clear that he was being so ruthless in
> planning his faux emotion responses because he genuinely didn't have any
> of his own, I wondered 'Is he a robot?  Is he an alien finding himself a
> girl friend in order to built a cover identity for himself?'

I very briefly (and only half seriously) considered some sort of
science-fiction trappings, or at least a metaphorical reference to a
simulcrum.  And there is something robotic about Leon's assertion that
stimulus A requires response A.

I have something of a passing interest in people who are emotionally
neutered.  Anders Cradle, for example, is a character who doubts the
sincerity of his emotions.  With Leon, I was trying to take it one
step further-- into the category usually occupied by sociopaths.

I'm uncomfortable prescribing one emotion or another as a story's
intended effect on the reader, but I can say that, in this story
specifically and in DOOMED ROMANCE generally, I strive for a mixture
of empathy and revulsion.  And that comes from the formula of the
series, which in general terms is somewhat tragic.

Probably the best definition I can think of for a tragic hero is that
his fate is simultaneously not his fault, but he has no one to blame
but his own damn self.  It is a character flaw that brings him down.
The reader (or audience member) can see what's going to happen a long
way away, or at the very least can intimate that whatever's going to
happen, it isn't going to be good.  And he can see how the tragic hero
himself almost single-mindedly and through his own action brings that
fate about.

At the same time, the character flaw that does this is something
that's also deeply ingrained in them, something they can't change.
And so, the tragic hero is, if not always because of the gods, Doomed.

Now, DOOMED ROMANCE differs from tragedy, classical or otherwise, in
that the stakes are considerably lower-- the spoiling of a
relationship-- and that in most tragedies, that character flaw is also
the thing that makes them great in the first place.  For example:
Hamlet is an extremely entertaining and whimsical young man.  These
qualities are what makes him a poor choice for an avenger; these
qualities are also what makes him interesting and likeable.

The men who populate (and narrate) the milleau of DOOMED ROMANCE are
not great, and their character flaws do not manifest themselves in
positive ways: there is no upside to Donald's depression in the second
issue, for example.  But while these stories are not strictly
tragedies (or, for that matter, romances), I think the examination of
deeply-ingrained compulsively self-destructive behaviours lends it
some of the fear and pity one associates with tragedy.  I think this
accounts both for any empathy one might feel for people trapped in
these behaviours, and any revulsion, as the behaviours aren't exactly

I'm deeply interested in compulsive behaviours, because these are
generally the things that define us: the repeated patterns, self-
destructive and otherwise, that trap us into one role or another.  I
am equally interested in more chaotic, "out-of-character" impulsive
behaviours, because they provide an opportunity for re-self-
definition.  In the pages of JOLT CITY, I tried to show both
behaviours inside Martin Rock, and to tie them together-- impulsive
behaviour becoming the ultimate self-destructive compulsive behaviour,
in a way.

But in these two romance titles, DOOMED ROMANCE and its kinkier
kounterpart, I tried splitting them up: DOOMED ROMANCE about men
confined and defined by destructive patterns, and KINKY ROMANCE about
women who discover themselves through a trangressive action or event,
either proactive or reactive: sex, perhaps, being the ultimate chaotic

> Still, by the end of the story there was enough evidence that this was
> a guy who really didn't understand emotional context to convince me of
> this.  (Possibly he has a specialised version of Aspergers Sydnrome.)  

That wasn't _necessarily_ my intention, though it might have been
subconscious.  I came into contact with a number of Aspies when I was
working in the mental health industry.  Though not as emotional as
severly autistic/non-verbal persons, whose anguish, frustration,
anger, and even happiness was far beyond operatic, I found most
persons on the Asperger's spectrum to be fairly emotion.  Their
problem-- and there is a little of this in Leon-- is that 99% of the
ones I met had absolutely no concept of other people: they couldn't
imagine anyone thinking any differently than they do, or feeling any
differently than they do, or being upset when they were happy and vice-

> Nevertheless I had spent so much time wondering whether this fellow was
> some sort of non-human and being reassured that he wasn't, that by the
> time I got to the ironic punchline the impact had been weakend.  The
> emotional impact, at least.  I recognised straight off that it was irony,
> but the reaction of how that fitted into the context of the rest of the
> story was kind of 'Oh, okay' rather than any empathy for his situation.

Well, I guess in this case I erred too much on the side of
revulsion. :- )

I wasn't intending the ending to be necessarily ironic, and certainly
not in the punchline/O. Henry/fingerquotes sense of the word.
> (Indeed, it's only now as I type these words and try to articulate a
> coherent reaction for how I reacted and why that I actually that there is
> a cleverly structured appropriateness to the story 'Leon' being published
> within the _Doomed Romance_ title.  The poor guy doesn't get it and
> probably never will.  But that doesn't mean I have to feel for him.)

I think you hit it on the head there: the "heroes" of DOOMED ROMANCE
are clueless to what they're doing and never realize their mistake--
something which also separates them from classical tragic heroes, who
learn everything at the climax, and from the heroines of KINKY ROMANCE
who actively explore themselves and generally leave the reader's
attention having learned something.  The men in DOOMED ROMANCE are not
only doomed, but afraid to look critically at themselves.

> ---
> Saxon Brenton

Thanks for the review, Saxon.


More information about the racc mailing list