Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Death Panel Explains Why Going To Hell Is Welcome At Anytime (Doctors in Hell roundtable interview)

Death Panel: (center) Janet E Morris; (top) Jack William Finley, Chris Morris; 
(middle) Bill Snider, Nancy Asire; Joe Bonadonna;
(bottom) Andrew Paul Weston, Richard Groller

Death Panelists, when is it O.K. to go to hell?

Some authors from the Doctors in Hell anthology convened for a death panel to decide your fate. Your affliction needing help?  Well, you heard about the recent release of this book but realized it is #18 in the Heroes in Hell series... is it okay to jump in now?   You are a bit timid to jump into death, so why not have the tour guides explain your worries away?  Below is a FAQ with common answers highlighted!

DIH authors (death panelists indicated with initials): Janet E. Morris (JEM), Chris Morris (CM), Andrew Paul Weston (APW), Nancy Asire (NA), R.E. Hinkle, Richard Groller (RG), Matthew Kirshenblatt, Bill Snider (BS), Joe Bonadonna (JB), Paul Freeman, and Jack William Finley (JWF)

Click here for my review of the book.

FAQ about Hell for new readers (click to jump-to answers): 

1. What is the general premise of the Heroes in Hell series?

JEM:  Hell really exists.  There were 613 original commandments, binding on every living soul even if they aren't Christians or Jews, and ignorance is no excuse:  break one and you go to hell.  So everybody does, almost: everybody who was anybody broke some commandment or other while on earth.  And here they are, sometimes in a part of hell where they belong, sometimes where they don't.  The wort and best from all of time make the same mistakes in hell that got them here:  character is destiny, Topside or throughout the Underverse.

RG: Bangsian Fantasy of the highest order - Hell is a real place where characters continue to live their lives. They come from across the length and breadth of time and history to interact. You can have Julius Caesar, Napoleon and Genghis Khan at the same table having a conversation. All of time and history is your palette - what incredible pictures can be made with the right imagination. What adventures can be wrought, while suffering the torments of a well-deserved damnation? As a backdrop for virtually any philosophical, social, political or sociological interactions, to include re-fighting wars and re-imagining history, Hell is the certainly the laboratory of the mind.

NA: It seems nearly everyone who has ever lived ends up in hell, no matter the time of their life or death.  In Satan’s hell, operating on Judeo/Christian laws and dictates, there are over 600 commandments that can be broken, even if the sinner has no knowledge the specific commandment existed.  In the other hells, ruled over by their various gods, the punishments meted out may or might not resemble those of Satan’s hell.  Naturally, whoever ends up in hell is punished by any means, from eternal frustration to actual torture and death.  In Satan’s hell, death is hardly permanent since the soul is reconstituted and returned to its hellish existence for further torment.  The series deals with various characters and their responses to their damnation.

2. What flavor of Hell/Afterlife is in scope (Valhalla? Naraka? Hades? Duat? Jahannam? Dante’s?)?

BS: This Hell, encompasses all Hells, Dantean, Jungian, Abrahamic, Babylonian, Eastern - if there was a designation for a Hell, then the Heroes In Hell series can include it.  There is no Hell too big, or too small to fit within these halls; hallowed as they may not be, they can all fit amongst those who dance to the tunes that are sung by those who continue to fall.  Hell is not just a place name, it's where we keep our notions of who we are and where we are destined to end up, should we ever be so inclined as to journey there.

APW: It’s whatever flavor takes your fancy. That’s the wonderful thing about the shared universe aspect, hell has many layers and circles, and they morph and transmute into whatever’s required to ensure its denizens or new arrivals suffer. As the saying goes...If you’re in need, the underworld knows and will ensure you plead before you bleed :)

CM: All the below (above). As well as the classic hells of literature Hell is comprised of hells as numerous as its residents. What makes hell so fascinating is that everybody – readers and writers and characters alike – bring some idea what the hot place is like. Often we follow souls who presume their hell experience will be informed or shaped by their peculiar racial or religious or social expectations, only to have their preconceptions painfully turned against them. So all hells imaginable, and some that beggar imagination, are on tap and ready to serve multitudes of hapless penitents as well as more deserving transgressors.

 3. Doctors in Hell is #18 in the series… should I start with this?

JB: Of course you can. I think it’s a lovely place to start your season in Hell. When I first jumped into the original Baen Books series (now out-of-print) I started after the first few volumes and had no problem riding along. And when Perseid Press rebooted the series in 2011 with all new editions and all new stories, I started with “Rogues in Hell” which was published after the first book, “Lawyers in Hell.” Then I read the third edition, “Dreamers in Hell” before going back to read “Lawyers in Hell.” By then I felt comfortable and familiar enough to write for “Poets in Hell,” and now “Doctors in Hell.” Got all that? Like I said earlier, each volume is pretty much stand-alone and any place you enter Hell is a good starting point. Just jump in and hang on.

JEM: Welcome to Hell. Want to start with Doctors in Hell?  Go right ahead: you'll meet new characters, Andrew Weston's Grim and the man who might once have been Jack the ripper...  The first two stories will orient you, as they always do.  If you want more of Shakespeare and Marlowe, read Dreamers and Poets.  If you're curious about Erra and the Sibitti, read Lawyers and Rogues.  We never numbered the volumes in the 20th century at Baen; we've stopped numbering them now.  Everyone knows enough about hell to quickly become oriented.  If you fall in love with Bat Masterson...  he appears in Lawyers, Rogues, Dreamers, Poets, and Doctors -- come to think of it, those are ALL the 21st century shared universe books.  If you crave a 21st century Heroes in Hell novel, read Michael Armstrong's Bridge Over Hell.  Or go right from Doctors in Hell to the forthcoming Hell Bound, where Andrew Weston's Reaper and Dr. Cream will scary you silly.

NA: I believe it is best to start with Lawyers (#13).  The series, Heroes in Hell, was resurrected with Lawyers and gives a good start to the neophyte reader.  The hellscapes are laid out, the rules governing the hells set forth, and the major characters are introduced, along with their backgrounds and why, despite their confusion and outright denial as to being eternally damned, they respond to the various levels of torture.  Life in New Hell City and environs shows how various levels of damnation are experienced, how serving (for example) Satan in various capacities, grants certain individuals a hellish existence far above that suffered by other souls.  The following anthologies will be easier to dive into given exposure to the events in Lawyers

BS: There is the modern incarnation, and there is the classic incarnation: The modern starts with Lawyers in Hell (book 13) and provides the starting point of the reboot of perdition.  The classic sets a stage bright and shiny and full of possibilities for mayhem.  However, all that being said as that has already been read, each book is well suited to standing alone, as the stories draw their own power, from that which is written from the bone.

4. How stand-alone are these themed issues?

JWF: As a rule of thumb, I’d liken the series to a TV series in that each story stands one it’s on like a TV episode but are loosely link and more or less chronological so you can start anywhere but you get a bit of a bonus if you start early and read things in order. You don’t have to do that to enjoy it or to get it, but it had to things if you do. On the other hand you won’t be totally lost if you don’t.

JB: Each volume is pretty complete. Unlike many other shared-world series, the books in the “Heroes in Hell” saga were “designed” to be novels written by diverse hands. While storylines may continue from one volume to another, each book stands on its own. Plots and storylines change from book to book, but more often than not our main characters are always on stage, although we do introduce new characters from time to time. In “Doctors in Hell,” we are now dealing with plagues ravaging throughout Hell, sent from Heaven Above to further punish the Damned. The premise/theme is laid out in the first two stories, written by Janet Morris and Chris Morris. From there, we contributing authors each write stories about what happens to our characters and how they deal with this infernal epidemic. The beauty of this series is that there is no death in Hell: the Damned are already dead. However, should a character be “killed” in Hell, he or she ends up in the Mortuary, where Hell’s Undertaker may do a little fiendish make-over on them before sending them back out in to Hell. This is called Reassignment.

CM: Hell’s themes are stand-alone only in that they provide a story arc or for a volume’s spectrum of stories, a way of wrangling our writers’ ideas and focus into a collection of tales that cohere as a group due to attention paid by all to the title “theme,” in this case “Doctors.” But a story’s doctor could be any ol’ doc, like Doc Holliday, Dr. Schweitzer, Pasteur, Freud, Teller…hmmm. And of course we’re bound to have a doc or two in any of the other Hell volumes, so the themes aren’t constraining but meant to be helpful to our contributors who might need a little push.

RG: That depends entirely on the author and whether or not they are following a long term or short term story arc or are writing a stand-alone story. Some of us have written within several arcs simultaneously, so our stories will touch upon events that occur over several volumes, while others might write a story meant to only coincide with events in a single volume. Some borrow existing characters with permission of the creators and interweave them with their own characters and have either dialog or story background to talk to key "theme related" events.  My Doctors in Hell story is actually a long arc story.  Its genesis was in Crusaders in Hell (Heroes in Hell #5 back in 1987) where Janet and Chris Morris wrote a story entitled "The Nature of Hell" about time perturbations in Hell. I borrowed some characters, added new, and picked up a story arc which at the time no other Hell author had chosen to write within (besides Janet and Chris). This culminated in "Island Out of Time" in Lawyers in Hell, "BDA" in Rogues in Hell, and "In The Shadowlands" in Doctors in Hell. The stories in Lawyers and Rogues would up generating a series of other short stories by other authors who then chose to write within the time perturbation arc.

5. Should I expect elves, orcs, or wizard schools?

APW: Definitely not. This is a walk on the twisted and positively maniacal side of life. And while you might find dark humor from time to time, it’s the kind that will chew you up, spit you out, and split its sides laughing as you burn. NOT the place for pixies, elves, or schools for aspiring wizards.

JB: To paraphrase a good friend of mine: “Oh, no, my Precious. We don’t wants no filthy elves, no stinkin’ orcses, and no slimy schools for hateful wizards. No, we do not.”

No elves!
CM; Expect demons of many sorts, waiting to seize upon the frailties, fears, lusts, foibles and passions of the countless teeming damned. Satan has legions of demons. These monstrous agents of damnation are exquisitely conceived and designed for the task at hand and embody – and disembody on occasion – whatever elements will leverage the Infernal agenda. Satan’s delight however is to elicit and expose demons lurking within the most unassuming souls, once more to underscore and demonstrate the inferiority of Creation’s proudest achievement – man.

JWF: No. Think something a lot more like The Outer Limits or Twilight Zone than your standard epic fantasy. I think Speculative Fiction is much more accurate than fantasy in this case, a lot of thought provoking stuff, more art film than summer block buster. There are quite a few mythic heroes sprinkled here and there but the standard is historical figures, a Wold Newton/League of Extraordinary Gentlemen sort of thing leaning far more heavily on real life historical figures rather than fictional ones.

Gustave Dore - Inferno
RG: No. Orcs or elves by definition would not be allowed unless perhaps Satan is creating them Golem-like to torment some poor wretch who perhaps has a phobia. But not a as characters. Fantasy characters of someone else's creation do no belong in hell. Hell is for all the inhabitants of history. Characters from traditional religious imagery (i.e. devils, demons, angels, archangels, etc.) are fair game, to include mythological creatures. You have Old Dead and New Dead. New Dead are from the more modern eras. Old Dead include ancient Greeks, Norse, Egyptian, etc. and all the Hellish visions and creatures extant from those cultures. The Damned get the Hell they deserve. Perhaps a wizard school if it existed in history. But not Hogwarts. In my story "BDA" we had the Gnostic Catholic Church of Hell, Aleister Crowley's order of magick practioners from the Ordo Templi Orientis, in Hell continuing their search for the Summun Bonum or "Great Work".

BS: Expect what will be, nothing less, nor nothing more.  Expect demons, devils, creatures of mayhem, dark imaginations, corners of the void that never hath seen the sprinkle of day's light, nor the balm of air unburnt by Hell's own infernal machinations.  This is not your mommy's world of fantasy; this is Hell, and tonight, we dine on gore.

6. By movie standards, is this rated PG-13, R, or something else?

BS: Well, as it is an anthology series, it's a bit of all three.  Some stories are not so spluttery, not so daring; and some will leave your eyes and jaws wildly staring!  The things we do in Hell, are something we've come here to tell; it's a variety of stories, with a little bit of skin, and a whole lot of sin.  Truth be told, the overall game is bold, and the Devil is in the details along with his vicious hold.  So, to answer the riddle, to give it a giggle, the answer is … yes.

JWF: Probably something else, but not much that’s so hard “R” or NC-17 that it’s likely to scare anyone off. You take 15-20 writers and give all of them more or less free reign within the setting as long as they tell a good story it can be hard to label or give a general rating to things. The only thing I remember being told was not to be gratuitous, if the story calls for violence or for something to be gruesome then do that but only because the story requires it. There isn’t much visceral-for-visceral-sake. It’s very much a story-first environment, let the story affect the readers. If it needs a lot of flashy violence or graphic content that’s not inherently necessary to tell a give story, it’s probably not going to meet the quality standard. If the story needs that to work it’s patched on like a badly made quilt, it’s not a very good story. Not all stories work for all people, that’s just the nature of the beast, but they do maintain a pretty high quality standard around here.

NA: If the movie is true to the series, I can’t imagine it would be rated anything but an R.  There is enough bloodshed, sexuality, torture and other unsavory happenings to keep it from being rated PG-13.  I might be old school, granting that most kids who can attend a PG-13 movie have probably seen more blood and guts that I did when I was their age.  It would, of course, depend on how exact the movie representation followed the events in the series’ short stories.  Graphic blood, torture and the like might be a bit too much for a PG-13, but kids these days have seen movies that seem to delight in gratuitous violence.

7. Authors, recall when you when you first experienced this Hell – what advice can you draw from that to aid new readers?

BS: Depth, breadth, scope of the working environment - the stories, the variety, the characters available to play with, but brief pitter patters through the historical course, there are no limits to the directions that one can fly; no end to the imagination, no blinders for one's inner eye.  The canvas upon which to write, is writ from a panoply of possibilities, a paragon of potential that the ends of the underworld stretches from one mind thought to another, with no end possible, as imagination never reaches its end, until after it has done so.

APW: I did my homework. This is a well-established and critically acclaimed universe. It has rules. There are certain things characters can do, and other things they can’t. There are gray areas that can be stretched. Keep that in mind as you begin to read and venture into the mire. And of course, as you wade deeper, try to spot how the various characters and story lines add value to the overall whole. I know from experience this is what the contributors try to do, as it helps the Heroes in Hell universe to remain fresh as it evolves along new and exciting paths.

8. A special message from Satan herself: A brief history of Heroes in Hell

JEM:  Heroes in Hell, the series, didn't seem at first like a threat to my life as I'd known it -- but let me warn you, hell changes lives and stretches souls. The first volumes, done in the 20th century for Baen Books, seemed like a great place to get out your aggression and frustrations: your hell story could be as dark as you liked, you could set it in any historical hell from any culture, or in our "melting pot" of New Hell.  We had a helluva good time.  Two stories (one from Heroes in Hell and one from Rebels in Hell) were Nebula Award finalists in the same year; one of those two subsequently won a Hugo award.  Then the trouble really began...  I stopped doing these, and let the century turn.  I forgot how all-consuming hell can be. In the 21st century, I rebooted Hell:  a new take on hell for a new century, some writers from the old series, mostly new talent.  You could write or read these without having read the 20th century books. All hell books stand alone atop your own psyche's view of immortality.  They still do.  Start anywhere; the cohesion in each volume makes it stand alone.  If you want to start with Lawyers in Hell, when the re-boot began, do that.  Or start with Doctors in Hell:  read hell forward or backward or upside down -- it's still hell.  It still unsettles minds and makes hearts skip beats.  Have fun, walking on hell's wild side.

"Hell really exists."