I’m working fairly steadily on The Worms Of Heaven, and I’m starting to get a feel for the major themes of this particular book. I know that there are some people who sit down and work this kind of stuff out in advance, but that’s not how I work.
I’ve got a pretty good idea of what is going to happen, as I’ve alluded to before it’s largely going to be concerned with an attack on both Agony’s person and her business empire that will leave James in charge of mounting the defense. I’ve got a grasp of the main villain, and a few of the supporting characters, which will include some that I have introduced in the first two books and a couple of new ones.
Overall themes, though, they tend to kind of sneak up on me. Cannibal Hearts turned out to be largely concerned with the concept of family, how we choose our families and what means in terms of obligation and identity. I didn’t plan that in advance, it just turned out that way.
One of the themes that I have discovered in The Worms Of Heaven is the loneliness of great strength. That’s always been part of James’ story–Catskinner makes him nearly invincible, but also isolates him. James has a fear of intimacy that stems not from fear of being hurt, but fear of hurting others. It’s a fear that is a large part of my own psychology, which is why I write about James & Catskinner.
I seemed to be digging deeper into that in this book. I have just finished up a scene in which a character named Kay has suffered a great loss. She’s a semi-human, a “blue metal boy” (and the proper term is “boy” for both men and women). They are humans who have replaced the naturally occurring metallic salts in their bodies with trans-uranium elements. This makes them incredibly strong and dense–they weigh tons and are nearly indestructible. (In Catskinner’s Book one of them nearly kills Catskinner and Russwin.)
In any event, Kay is crying, and James tries to comfort her, but he realizes that she can’t hug him–she’s too strong and he’s too fragile. She can’t touch ordinary humans without risking killing them.
It’s a very visceral scene, and I think it’s the sort of metaphor that speculative fiction does best–get to the heart of the real by invoking the fantastic.
I don’t think that’s the only theme that I will be exploring. I’m also playing around with riffs of duty and betrayal, loyalty and fealty, and the conflicts between personal and corporate morality.
None of which, I hope, will get in the way of the story. All of this subtext is like the parsley on the plate at a restaurant, you get it for free with the meal, but no one expects you to actually eat it. I think I’ll be serving up a nice hot dish of over the top weird, deep fried madness on a lightly toasted bun, with a side of fries. A solid meal, nothing fancy, hot and filling and enjoyable.
Still, it’s always fun to watch the pieces coming together.