indigozeal (indigozeal) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

#43: Here's a lullaby to close your eyes. Oh, wait.

All right, so: in posting my review of The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, I noticed that the community had a "fanfiction" tag - which, indeed, some members had used to add nonpublished fanfics of suitable length to their count. So I thought: hey, *I'm* steeped in otaku things; have I read any book-length fanfics? Well, yes, but not in a very reputable way: during my recent trek through the game Silent Hill: The Room, I had stumbled across the discovery that my own birthday was considered a holiday to the surprisingly large number of fans who like to pair the protagonist and antagonist romantically. Weird pairings are no stranger to fandoms, but this seemed particularly weird, as one party has all the emotion of (to steal from other quarters) the lead in a Sartre novel and the other has significant sartorial and hygiene issues - and even the most obsessive shipping fandoms don't tend to have holidays. In poking around to see what became of this, I actually did discover a couple stories that did some interesting things characterwise, one of which did hit the word count of a novel.

I paused at including a fanfic in my count. Looking at my list, though, I had to ask myself: could I at all justify omitting this story from a list that includes such august company as The Gift of Fear? Back came the answer: Christ, no. So let's go on this adventure, comm.

[Cutting for vague spoilers about the premise of & one of the endings to Silent Hill 4, or just for the sake of those who don't wanna read paragraphs about Silent Hill 4]

All right, so the fic is Impaired, by an author pseudonymed Gaia Faye, and it opens after the game's worst ending. Protagonist Henry finds himself resurrected by the cult that makes the town of Silent Hill its home - with a unique connection to the dark god it dearly wants to resurrect. Henry's the unwilling conduit through which said god will speak, and to facilitate his role, he's been blinded to minimize the resistance he can offer and given divine immunity from physical wounding to - well, it's supposedly a blessing, but it's really so that he won't off himself and deprive the baddies of their god's word. He's also being guarded by Walter Sullivan, the killer whose mind and sorry history Henry came to know through the events of The Room and who's latched onto Henry as a source of empathy. Nominally a venerated prophet but in reality a prisoner, Henry has to overcome his new disability and find a way to prevent himself from bringing about hell on earth.

The plot of The Room has been switched around a bit to accommodate the premise: whereas Sullivan's murders were originally part of a grand, largely one-man plan to allow him to withdraw from a world that had given him little but pain, here they're just another in a series of schemes to resurrect the god Silent Hill's cult wants to bring back in every other game, with Sullivan as a mere subservient cog. Much of what distinguished The Room - the realms that sprang from the villain's damaged mind; the idea that those he killed lived on in undeath in this mindscape; the pervasive isolation of the plot, which in the game hinged primarily on three characters - has been dispensed with, and I won't say I didn't miss it.

I will say, though, that this is the first time I've been interested in Silent Hill's cult business, which I usually find trite and hokey; I find the series far better when it sticks to psychological horror, which the series at its peak does better than most any other game on the market. The author's good at writing original characters, though, most of them members of the cult, and we see through them how a person could plausibly find comfort in its madness; like other, far saner religions, it offers a sense of purpose in an apparently directionless world and the promise of something better waiting beyond it. It's given a bit more dimension here than the kill-blood-rust of the games while still remaining evil. Despite my ultimate issues with the denouement, the story also effectively captures an overwhelming feeling of abandonment and emptiness - when everything you depended on leaves you, and all the promises of wonder and love and greater meaning go dry like ash in your mouth.

I'd also give high marks to the author for understanding Sullivan a great deal, a villain notable for his bizarre lack of malice even as he chased down The Room's protagonists to send them to their deaths. The subplot about Sullivan's affection for Henry understands the basic tragedy of the man: someone who hasn't had the good entirely beaten out of him and whose love is genuine but to whom violence comes so easily that he can't function in a human relationship. It's remarkable in that it features plenty of emotional connection, or attempts at emotional connection, yet no whitewashing of Sullivan's problems or unrealistic reciprocity on Henry's part; it's remarkable in how much it refuses to pander.

The story's also good at the small moments, like when Henry, a photographer by hobby, sadly feels for his camera and then, after a bit of reminiscing, bashes it angrily to bits, bitter that he'll never take another photograph. Or when Henry, desperate for comfort, ends up listening to an old cast recording of A Chorus Line from when he was in college, and Sullivan comes in and comments curiously on how he knows this song. This would be in other hands fodder for cheap jokes about musicals, but it turns into a reflection on the weird glancing connections that can occur between the most disparate of people.

I actually thought it was a neat turn to bring in a character from another installment in the series, but the character ultimately takes over the narrative; Henry and Sullivan end up as bystanders in their own story, and Henry in particularly dearly needed more agency. The ending's not really worthy of what's gone before and is too cruel for my tastes to Henry and Room secondary lead Eileen and even Sullivan. It reaffirms my belief that The Room is best as an isolated, three-person story, but the author is undeniably ambitious and does a lot of interesting things well.
Tags: fanfiction, horror

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