But what in my life doesn’t?
I have to start this post with a bit of a story. When I was young I was a voracious reader of both fiction and nonfiction. Just constantly consuming books on every conceivable subject. There was never a time when I didn’t have a book near at hand that I was in the process of devouring. Then as time went this started to change. I found myself re-reading older books that I liked more than I was reading new material as I wasn’t particularly happy with the way fantasy was going at the time. The same tropes were appearing over and over again (Seriously how many amnesiac characters do we need? How many assassins?) and I was starting to feel like I was falling out of love with the genre. This impacted my own writing to the point that I stopped writing for many years.
Then, by random chance, I joined the Facebook GrimDark Fiction Readers and Writers Group while I was at home recovering from serious injury (hint: that is going to be a recurring theme in my life) Michael R. Fletcher gave me a copy of the first book in his Manifest Delusions series Beyond Redemption. I read it because it was a free book, had a cool premise, and I had nothing else to do besides be in pain. And for the first time in a long time I didn’t just enjoy a book I loved it. It immediately brough back that feeling I had the first time I read At the Mountains of Madness or the Weird of the White Wolf or Cabal. I found myself truly loving reading fantasy again and not just loving what it used to be. My ideas started to flow again. I started writing again. All because someone took a moment to be nice to someone who was down on their luck. So before I get to actually discussing the merits of the books themselves I have to say this.
Thank you, Michael.
And this ends the sappy portion of events. Let’s get to the series shall we? Manifest Delusions is a subversion of traditional fantasy – a common theme in the GrimDark subgenre – in almost everyway. The setting is nebulous rather than this concrete set in stone “here’s a map and everyone’s social security number” method that has become popular. Though note that I do not oppose a highly developed setting as long as it’s interesting. Here the nebulousness work’s in the setting’s favor. The action is harsh. Violence is ugly and dangerous for everyone involved. There are no heroes – or, at least, no one who sees themselves as one is. Just people moving in opposition to each other and society. These are basically the tenets of GrimDark. What elevates this is two things: the universe and the execution.
By the universe I am referring to the magic system if you will. Reality is consensual in this world. If enough people believe in something it is true (and – yes – I have contemplated the horror of what this system would look like in urban fantasy). If enough people believe in a god the god is made real. If enough people believe that a city is a cesspool of crime and corruption it becomes so. Most people cannot do anything with this directly. They do not believe strongly enough to change things on their own but there is a group of people who do. Madmen. People who’s views of the world are so warped that they defy the belief of the many and instead impose their beliefs upon them. A pyromaniac calls forth fire. The man who believes the images in his mirror are monsters trying to get him calls forth those monsters into existence. The sociopath twists the emotions and lives of the people around them because they are the center of their world. The woman who believes she has the soul of a bear can become the bear.
There is a lot of heady stuff there. Deep themes about the drive to change things seeming madness to others and that drive being self destructive if it gets out of control. Themes about controlling perception to control reality. Questions about where does the line between sanity and insanity even lie? So much to work with. So many thoughts and ideas to pursue. And all of those themes and questions could have been squandered. It would have been easy to squander them but this is where the brilliance of the execution comes in.
I will say it now I have an unusual interest in how mental illness is portrayed in media thanks to being a schizophrenic (as well as a couple of other things we don’t need to get into here). The vast majority of the time mental illness is either treated as something to be laughed at or something to be cured by something lazy and hipsterish – I’m looking at you, Garden State – and the same could have easily happened here with madness being a source of power. How hard would it have been to basically play it off as they can’t really be mentally ill if they’re right? It would have been easy but thankfully that is not what happens. These madmen have power but it’s a self destructive power. The more deluded they become the powerful they become and the power feeds the delusion. It’s a self destructive cycle that taints the very core of the Manifest Delusions world. It represents mental illness very realistically. It doesn’t make you bad for having them, it doesn’t make you the funny person, it doesn’t mean you are broken beyond repair, and if it’s not controlled or treated it can destroy you.
And the best part of this whole concept? It’s a living, breathing part of the plot. It is not just a law of supernal physics in the world. It contributes to the story. It enhances and gives power. It shines a light on the beliefs and ambitions that drive the story onwards. It helps build this sense that everyone is connected. That the world is connected. And that is beautiful. That is special.
So go out. Pick up beyond Redemption and the Mirror’s Truth. The third book – Swarm and Steel – comes out in August. Pre-order it. You won’t regret it.
PS If any of you want to come and bitch about the German he uses in the book allow me to save you the time and give you my response now. Eat a dick.