Thursday, October 26, 2006

Demons as Aliens

Our all-too-common xenophobic reaction to people exotically different from ourselves is well illustrated in the innovative fantasy novel THE DEMON'S DAUGHTER, by Emma Holly, which I may have mentioned a few weeks ago. Here's what I said about it in a recent issue of my monthly newsletter (which interested readers can subscribe to at:

Set in an alternate-world analogue of Victorian London, this novel envisions an Earth on which "demons" called the Yama dwell in the far north and have begun to mingle with ordinary human beings. Not truly demonic, the Yama are another species, humanoid but not human, capable of draining "etheric energy," and some of them find human etheric energy irresistibly tempting. Scotland Yard Inspector Adrian Phillips specializes in tracking down missing children, including those illicitly sold to the Yama. He has undergone enhancement with Yama implants that endow him with superhuman strength, a benefit that comes at a price of exhaustion in the aftermath of each use of this power. His colleagues view him with suspicion because he has accepted this operation, but the department needs him because he is one of the few officers who can function effectively in the part of the city where the Yama comprise the majority. His work brings him into contact with Roxanne, an artist who takes him in after he has been injured while incognito in a dangerous sector of the metropolis. Soon afterward, Roxanne discovers that she is half "demon," a crossbreed previously thought to be impossible. Adrian's enemies and those of Roxanne's newfound Yama father, a prominent diplomat, place the two protagonists' lives as well as their relationship at risk. Moreover, Adrian's love affair with Roxanne threatens his law-enforcement career, the core of his identity. Since the late Victorian period is my favorite era, I found Holly's adaptation of that world enthralling, an excellent piece of world-building. Also, she writes some of the best erotic scenes I've read in a long time, both hot and tender.

This book presents several intriguing aspects, including the way Adrian is thought of as "tainted" by association because of his implants, even though they enhance his abilities and, viewed objectively, don't make him any less human. I'm especially intrigued, though, by the fact that the Yama are labeled "demons" although they're natural creatures, because of their differences and their mysterious (to human observers) powers. I'm reminded of the treatment of demons in the BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL universe. In the early episodes of BUFFY, we get the impression that all demons are evil. Although we gradually discover they aren't demons in the religious sense—fallen angels—we still assume, along with Buffy and her friends, that they're evil by definition. Later, however, we learn that "demon" seems to be a generic term for creatures from other dimensions (some of them being "hell dimensions," but not necessarily all). Such beings belong to a wildly various collection of species; indeed, some are incorporeal, while many are quite physical, though with superhuman powers. Some demons are harmless, and some, such as Clem on BUFFY and Lorne on ANGEL, are actually nice. When Angel and company visit Lorne's home dimension, they find that over there human beings are regarded as the monsters! Moreover, Angel's late, lamented partner Doyle is half demon, and toward the end of the series, Cordelia becomes infused with demonic traits to enable her to endure the agony of her visions. So the concept of "demon" becomes almost equivalent to "alien," carrying all the ambiguity of that term.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg's essay "Vampire with Muddy Boots" draws a distinction between the horror mode and the science fiction mode of conceptualizing the Unknown. In the horror worldview, "the Unknown is a menace because it's a menace." A vampire (or a demon) is an enigmatic threat to be exterminated. In the SF mode, on the other hand, the Unknown can be understood, a process that often neutralizes the menace and promotes a rapport between the self and the Other. Even if the Other is a "demon."

No comments:

Post a Comment