Jonathan Wood is an Englishman in New York. There’s a story in there involving falling in love and flunking out of med school, but in the end it all worked out all right, and, quite frankly, the medical community is far better off without him, so we won’t go into it here. His debut novel, No Hero was described by Publisher’s Weekly as “a funny, dark, rip-roaring adventure with a lot of heart, highly recommended for urban fantasy and light science fiction readers alike.” Barnesandnoble.com listed it has one of the 20 best paranormal fantasies of the past decade, and Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels described it as, “so funny I laughed out loud.” His short fiction has appeared in Weird Tales, Chizine, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, as well as anthologies such as The Book of Cthulhu 2 and The Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Year One.
I love me some good old-fashioned Lovecraftian fiction. The tentacled horrors rising out of the night. The screams. The recognition of our insignificance in the face of a vast, uncaring universe. Part of the beauty of H. P. Lovecraft’s vision of horror is how alien his monsters are. Their motives are totally beyond our ken. We cannot ever hope to understand them. There is an implacability to them that we can never hope to conquer.
Writing the first book in my series, No Hero, I knew that was what I wanted. I wanted some poor bewildered sap wandering into a nightmare of unknowable alien-nees. An unfathomable monstrosity that would assault his body and his sanity. Part is simply because that book isn’t about the bad guy, it’s about doing terrible things to a protagonist, and seeing what’s left of him when he comes out the other end. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that some of it is because, “Squee! Tentacles!”
But recently, heading into book 3, Anti-Hero, nameless horrors didn’t really feel like they’d cut it any more. My protagonists, Arthur, has gone through the fire, he’s been forged. To say something interesting with him, requires an opposing force with a few more motives.
At the other end of the villain spectrum to nameless Lovecraftian horrors (because everybody has a villain spectrum, right?) lies Magneto. Magneto is a villain so relatable, he has trouble even staying a villain. This is a man who has seen the worst humanity has to offer, and now he simply wants to defend his people. Magneto’s plight makes every story he’s a part of just a little more poignant. It makes taking him down a little harder. And you can’t help but feel every time the X-Men take him down they lose a little part of themselves along the way. It’s a set-up that’s fueled decades of comics.
With Anti-Hero, I’ve tried to take the Magneto route. And, I’ve got to say, I sort of loved it. Writing about an antagonist who stood for something, who has a relatable goal, let me take the focus off my protagonist and put it onto an issue. It let me write about something more than one man’s journey. But in doing that it also let me write more clearly about my protagonist. Because it forced him to make ugly choices, to really decide, three books into the series, about heroism, about what sort of hero he wanted to be.
I’m never going to stop loving nameless horrors. I’m never going to get tired of watching characters railing against unquenchable darkness. But at the same time, if they can be doing it because of some godawful moral compromise, I’m going to be far happier about it.