Sunday, February 22, 2009

VICARIOUS VERISIMIILITUDE: Morality and Immorality via Ramon Espejo

Talking about some of the extremes of human behavior and how we deal with these things, culturally, socially, segues in nicely with a book I just finished: HUNTERS RUN by George R.R. Martin, Gardner Dozois and Daniel Abraham. It fits nicely because the book’s main character (I’m not sure I can bring myself to call him protagonist or hero) is a man who has been characterized in reviews on Goodreads as an unrepentant asshole.

And I think the reviewers are being kind.

Many readers hated the book because of Ramon Espejo. Others felt that his very asshole-ness made the book what it was. In the Q&A in the book’s last pages, Gardner states that early readers hated Ramon. It’s easy to hate Ramon.

It’s also hard to stop reading his story.

Ramon is a drunk, a woman-beater, a liar, a cheat. He’s a down-on-his-luck prospector on an alien planet. He’s a murderer. He has a hugely overblown view of himself.

He’s also tough, persistent, dogged and resourceful. He makes many bad decisions. He makes a few very good ones.

Ramon would be a difficult main character in a romance. Although he does a few heroic things, he’s not hero material. Not even with the recent trend in romance toward bad-boy protagonists. Not even with the trend toward blood-sucking dead guys as heroes.

Yet I found him a fascinating character and I actually cared enough about him to worry if he would live or die, fail or succeed. And so did a lot of other readers. And I wonder, with this talk about morality and society, how much vicarious nastiness we get out of our systems because of characters like Ramon. Or how much of our own nastiness we recognize in characters like Ramon and hence don’t feel quite that unusual.

We all have a dark side, good old Darth notwithstanding.

One of the criticisms often leveled at romance novels are that the main characters are too perfect. Too handsome. Too strong. Too caring. There have even been comments with the rise of the kick-ass heroine that we’re again creating characters with characteristics that are unattainable. Super Mom has spawned Super Fem Protagonist.

Ramon Espejo represents some of the worst of in all of us.

So does Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter but Hannibal the Cannibal was very outrĂ©. Larger than life, suave, manipulative. Intelligent. He was a number of good and worthy qualities gone bad.

Ramon’s just an asshole. And an uneducated one at that.

Then he stumbles on a secret that, if revealed, could cause the deaths of thousands. And he becomes, quite literally, his own worst enemy.

I don’t want to get into spoilers—I do encourage you to read this book if the issues of morality interest you at all—but it’s the “literally” where the book shines. And continues to take unexpected turns.

All I can say is the redemption I thought I saw coming for Ramon…doesn’t. But there is a redemption and it comes from another source. But uplifting…?

You need to see for yourself.

At only two hundred seventy six pages the book is a quick read. But I found it to be a very powerful one.


SHADES OF DARK, the sequel to Gabriel’s Ghost, July 2008 from RITA award-winning author, Linnea Sinclair, and Bantam Books:

“You’ve told me many times I still need training. That a rogue Kyi like me is capable of utter destruction if I’m not careful. Then heed your own warning. Don’t force me to find out just what I’m capable of. Because when the dust settles, I will be the one left standing. And you know that.”


  1. I'll have to check out that book. If nothing else supporting it will cheese off the rabid fans getting ready to strom Martian's house for "fooling around" with other projects and not finishing Dances with Dragons. :-)

  2. I think I've read that book, and I have always admired George R. R. Martin since I read his Vampire novel Fevre Dream and questioned him about it on a panel. Amazing guy.
    Here's his bibliography

    I love the title of this blog entry! Echoes my entry
    and finishes making some of my points.

    I think we're getting close to defining where SFR belongs in the genre spectrum! If we can nail that, maybe I can sell my Boxmaster Trilogy.

    Now I have to go answer a comment posted on my blog entry on the 7 of Swords
    where a couple people said I'd nailed the explanation.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  3. Having read the book last year I have to say I agree with everything you said about it. I too found myself rooting for him even though he was not a nice person. I wondered if it was the way the writers dragged me into the story or if I am just too avid a reader but I couldn't put it down until the last page.

  4. Ilona, I think a lot was the writing. The other was very deft characterization that just when you thought you really couldn't stand Ramon, he'd do something decent. For Ramaon, that is.

    And I think there's a little Ramon in all of us (some more than others, obviously).

    Plus I UNDERSTOOD him. I understood why he was the way he was, the product of his upbringing and environment and that in many ways, he was doing the best he could.

    I think characters worthy of hatred are more those who have all the abilities to be better and ignore them. Ramon didn't have a lot to work with. He wasn't tall and handsome. He wasn't educated. He'd never been shown any particular kindness. He survived and was coherent enough to realize that he was at his worst when drunk. He wasn't unaware of his asshole-ness. He just didn't have any tools to deal with it (well, other than a rather unique epiphany which is what the book is about). Even then, he improved only slightly because he was still Ramon.