The estimable Alana Joli Abbott, whose novels Departure and Into the Reach are now available via DriveThruRPG, posted a few days ago on the fun and games of featuring authors in fiction. She’s especially intrigued by the show Castle, the titular character of which is a James Patterson-esque super-mystery writer brand. Richard Castle has actually published novels in “our” world, which (by virtue of the show’s popularity) have become NYT best-sellers – so Richard Castle, the fictional character played by Nathan Fillion, is a real-world bestselling author.
This Borgesian trick tickles my fancy, too. It has a long and noble lineage in science fiction and fantasy, the best example of which that springs to my mind is the author Kilgore Trout. Trout’s a character in Kurt Vonnegut’s novels Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions, and was intended as a fictional parallel to the author Theodore Sturgeon. In Vonnegut’s books, Trout writes science fiction halfway between the gutter and the stars (as Fatboy Slim would have it) – Trout’s stories are mostly published (in Vonnegut’s world) by porn mags as filler, because text is cheaper than photographs. The stories aren’t pornographic, they’re just side-by-side with the naked ladies.
Of course, there has been a real science fiction novel written by Kilgore Trout, a book called Venus on the Halfshell that’s hiding in my storage closet somewhere in Tennessee. It feels like an American 1960s version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: everyman evades Earth’s destruction and travels the galaxy in search of one particular space babe. Thing is, Venus wasn’t written by Vonnegut. It was written by Philip Jose Farmer, one of the giants of SF and fantasy. So, we have a fictional author based on a real-life author, who then serves as the pseudonym for yet a fourth author who writes a real book.
As if this wasn’t funny enough, Farmer and his daughter shows up in Spider Robinson’s Callahan’s Place stories as time-traveling police officers from an alternate reality. Confused yet? To keep score, that’s a real writer, fictionalized, writing a book for a fictional writer who is himself a fictional version of a real writer.
I’m not enough of a PoMo nut to talk with proper words about what’s going on here, but I love the way fictional and real worlds intersect, especially when they’re used playfully. (Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy takes itself too seriously to be fun, to my mind.) I wrote a book a while ago where a sci-fi author from “our” world gets chased across the universe by characters from an apocalyptic novel that he wrote. These characters, having become aware of the existence of their writer, naturally believe that he’s responsible for the destruction of their home planet and the death of billions. Good clean fun!
There’s an interesting theological consequence of all this mixing of real and fictional worlds. Alana mentions in her post that Yann Martel (who I’ve never read) prefers to write as if there is a God, because that makes for a better story, and how this dovetails with Castle’s tendency to solve crimes by looking at them as if they’re mystery stories. The funny thing is, Castle’s right not because real-life criminals work like characters in books (often they don’t), but because he and everyone he knows are characters in a mystery TV series. For characters in books, God exists beyond a shadow of a doubt – she’s the chick holding the pencil.
So what are we to make of books where the characters want to kill God?