An article Leviathan author Scott Westerfield wrote about Buffy the Vampire Slayer (A Slayer Comes to Town) made me conscious of a prevalent theme in sci-fi and fantasy: who is “In the Know”, versus who is not. Of course, as Scott points out, we’ve all been seeing or reading this dynamic in multiple stories all our lives, as in the episodic TV series where monster killers blow into town, deal with a supernatural outbreak, and then everything returns to blissful ignorance for the town’s residents at the end of the episode.
But there’s often a critical point in these stories where those who are In the Know have to let someone into their circle of esoteric knowledge. And in doing so they have to convince an ordinary person that the impossible is real. Scott contends Joss Whedon was particularly clever in how this dynamic plays out in Buffy: transitions across that boundary are subverted and the boundaries are more fluid than you expect. For example, you think in Season One that only Buffy’s gang knows about the vampires in Sunnydale, but then at the end of the season her classmates (seemingly out of the blue) elect her Class Protector at the Prom.
Since reading Scott’s essay, I’ve been noticing this dynamic everywhere. The Muggles vs. those who know about the secret world of magic in Harry Potter. Multiple scenes in Supernatural where Sam and Dean have to let someone into the fold of their world of multiple supernatural, angelic, and demonic entities threatening humankind. Long before I read Scott’s essay, I’d written my scene in Siana’s War where my protagonist decides, agonizingly, to reveal to Jesse that her personality exists in two worlds simultaneously, and this is the explanation for all apparent lies she’s had to tell him.
What I’ve become most fascinated with is the moment of risk. As writers of the fantastic, I think our heads are always somewhat in another world. Our writing helps us explore the massive What If (there was another world, or layer to reality) that fascinates us. In our stories, the What If becomes real, but it is usually only real to a select few, those In the Know. How would we usher someone across that threshold? In my scene, my protagonist attempts to use logic—logic that can’t be denied, despite the seemingly impossible conclusion to which that logic drives their conversation. I titled that chapter How to Prove the Unbelievable. Her Daring Act of Logic is her way of navigating through the massive risk she is taking in trying to prove something that will seem completely insane, but which she knows is real. She takes the risk of undressing in front of her friend (an act which seems insane in of itself), to show him the scars on her chest from her death in another universe, scars which no ordinary person in our world could reasonably have.
(Warning: iZombie spoiler alert ahead). Now an aficionado of this dynamic, I was excited when I sensed the TV series iZombie was ramping up to one of these moments at the end of its 2nd season. The scene where Liv lets Clive into the Know was so similar to the one in Siana’s War: the same revelation of impossible knowledge (an act of trust between the two characters), the disbelief, and then her risky attempt to prove the truth of her impossible knowledge. In Liv’s case she stabs herself with a knife from his kitchen, proving that she (as a zombie) is immune to normally mortal wounds.
This dynamic has become a cornerstone of my sketches for Siana’s War IV. A new character gathers hints that Siana’s story is not just a fantasy creation but a real account, and is gradually initiated into that world through a series of clues, hints and then acts of exploration. Drawn out over a longer period of time, the initiation is not a revelation (like the examples above), but a mystery to be solved.