Are you a loser? You just may be! If you are, Richard Kadrey argues, you are in some fine company — and indeed, some of your favorite fictional heroes may just be there in the loser camp with you. Kadrey gets under the skin of Devil Said Bang, his latest installment in his excellently deranged Sandman Slim series, and looks at how losers populate his book front and back… and why that’s a good thing.
(Note: Some spoilers below for those of you who have not caught up with the series to date)
As Devil Said Bang opens James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, has been tricked into becoming the new Lucifer when the old Lucifer hightailed it out of Hell. This is kind of thing is pretty much just another day for Stark. He’s survived Hell’s arenas, argued with God, bitchslapped the Devil, and saved the world a couple of times but that doesn’t change the most the most salient fact of his life: He’s a loser.
I don’t mean that as any kind of put down. The truth is that most of us are losers in one way or another. We started out thinking our lives would be one thing and however successful we might be, most people secretly dream of being something else. Bankers want to be rock stars. Rock stars want to be Picasso. Actors want to be writers. Writers want to be, well, pretty much anything easier than being a writer. Ninety-nine percent of the world is made up of losers and that unites us against the one-percent who got exactly what they wanted and are happy with it. Fuck those people. They have no imagination. Or they’ve put theirs on ice so they won’t wake up from troubling dreams about life as a cabaret singer, a pirate, an astronaut, or a tightrope walker.
I’m not the first writer whose books star a loser. Let me give you a famous example. If you’re a fan of this blog chances are you’ve read and probably love The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Is there a bigger loser in all of literature than Arthur Dent? But we still care about him and root for him. And Arthur isn’t pop lit’s only loser and he’s certainly not the most famous.
Sherlock Holmes is a misanthropic creep and a speed freak.
Neuromancer’s Case is a geek with a drug problem, a bomb in his head, and a girl who’s either going to leave him or kill him.
Batman is flat out psychotic.
King Arthur? Massive loser.
Hamlet, King Lear, Romeo, and Juliet? Losers times four.
The X-Men? Laser-eyed losers.
Frodo saves Middle Earth and for his trouble ends up with the worst case of PTSD since Colonel Kurtz.
How do losers survive and thrive in the world? The lucky ones, the smart ones create a community of likeminded losers. Frodo has his Sam and other slightly damaged Hobbits. The X-Men have their coven of mutants. And even though he’s constantly rude to him, Holmes would be a complete wreck without Watson.
Stark has a few PTSD issues of his own. Wouldn’t you after eleven years as everyone’s punching bag in Hell? Stark plays at being a lone wolf (and sometimes has to be one) but he relies on a community to keep him sane. And who is his community? More losers. Vidocq, Stark’s surrogate father, is a quality thief and brilliant alchemist but he also blew an experiment so badly that he’s turned himself immortal. Alice, Stark first girlfriend, was murdered and his current squeeze, Candy, is a recovering vampire-like monster. Brigitte, the zombie hunter, is out of job now that Stark has wiped out all the zombies, and her acting career isn’t going too well. Allegra, who always wanted a purpose in life, has one but it keeps her locked in her clinic. And then there’s Kasabian. What can I say about him? He’s a headless body on a magic skateboard. Even Stark’s sometime employer, Lucifer, is a loser. And there’s a certain deity in the shadows who’s having his own nervous breakdown.
All these characters gravitate to each other for the simple reason that even when they fight and occasionally consider murder they recognize themselves in each other. That’s what communities are: mutant families that exist because we can’t get along without them.
Losers might not be the ones who run the world but they’re the ones who keep it going. They make art. They raise families. They invent radio and alternating current (Yes, Tesla is the quintessential loser hero).
All the characters in my novels are losers and each is a hero in their own small way, just like the characters in so many of your favorite books, comics, and movies. Just like people in the real world. People who put one foot in front of the other and do the real work of keeping the world spinning and making it an interesting place. Losers rule, on paper and in life.
Now if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to put ice on my knee. I wrecked it playing street football when I was in high school. What a stone loser.