In which genres meet and the past never really goes away
July 28, 2015
It may seem strange that a discussion of science fiction would bring up William Faulkner. But it happened.
I was on a panel on Southern Gothic Fiction at ArmadilloCon, the big science fiction convention last weekend in Austin, when we naturally came to Faulkner’s famous dictum: “The past is never dead. It's not even past.”
Such a perfect segue into time travel.
This was a discussion that our moderator, author Joe Lansdale, kicked off with the question: ”Why does the South seem to have a monopoly on deeply flawed, eccentric, morally ambivalent characters?” Panelists noted slavery and racism, defeat in the Civil War, a distrust of outsiders, the isolation and boredom of small town and rural life.
And the storytelling. Just look at Joe. He’s a small town, East Texas guy who says he wouldn’t live anywhere else. He’s also the wildly successful and prolific author of Southern Gothic, horror, mystery, crime and Western novels. This is where science fiction and Southern meet.
Now, there are strange people everywhere. They certainly inhabit science fiction. The difference for Southern Gothic is that they also inhabit the stories Southern people tell each other every day.
There’s gossiping among adults. Consider this from One Red Thread in which protagonist Eddy’s childhood friend Libby recalls visits to his maiden aunts:
“What did your parents and those old ladies talk about anyway? Hours and hours, sitting in the parlor, drinking sweet tea, talking. Old family stories, I guess.”
There’s instructing the younger generation. In this scene, time-traveling Eddy lands in the late 1950s. His great aunt addresses him as if he were a boy. He ponders her meaning:
“That was a black day for the McBride family,” said Lillian. “I’ll never forget the way Hugh came home and slammed that door, how he wouldn’t come out of his room.”
Here it was. The sad and painful story that had made the entire McBride family something fragile.
And there’s speaking from experience. In the early 1920s, Eddy takes a walk with his great grandfather, a survivor of the Civil War Battle of Antietam:
“The Cornfield was filled with smoke,” he told me, “but I could see the enemy clearly. We yelled like hell and we ran at him. And then I couldn’t see anything. I was lying in the plowed field and my face was bleeding and my eyes were blinded. All I could do was lie there and wait.”
It’s all through the book. For a bit more, check out the recorded reading from One Red Thread on my Events page. It’s still another example where the past is present—and where time traveling is Southern to the core.