Author Case Study – Scott Baker [1w2]


Scott Baker is another author interesting enough that I am breaking my principle of not discussing living authors.
He is a World Fantasy Award winner who wrote a number of (under-appreciated) books in the fantasy, SF, and horror genres, as well as a number of short stories which likewise were quite highly critically acclaimed. His fantasy works of the ‘Ashlu Cycle’ – ‘Drink the Fire From the Flames’ and sequel ‘Firedance’ deal with shamanic themes, while his horror and some SF tends to deal with themes like vampirism or parasitism (Ancestral Hungers, Nightchild, short story Varicose Worms). Note that I haven’t read all his short stories, or his horror book Webs. Generally his works show a great deal of imagination and a degree of careful planning, with things being there for a reason but subtle or not evident until later – growing-up experiences to add shock value to early friends’ fates later, or the shape of Moth’s ‘soul’ in the first chapter being evocative of his later destiny, or a minor mention of priests building a fire trench not really dwelt on, but in the background explaining mystical experiences of people at a festival. The author himself is fairly open about having had a number of drug experiences after college, before starting to write and moving from America to Paris; drug themes also run through Ancestral Hungers (where the main character is a drug dealer/snake handler, smuggling drugs inside snakes) and Symbiote’s Crown (the main characters’ parent/guardian attacks one of them, and later their grandmother, in a drug-induced frenzy).

General summary of works

Book 1 of the Ashlu Cycle deals with a character called Moth growing up and being initiated as a potter, and later a smith, with in-depth exploration of how the professions are felt to be mystical by primitive people. The main plot deals with a ritual where the king dies and is resurrected through having the sword holding his soul broken and reforged – Moth’s uncle, a smith, is executed after the broken sword is stolen by the king’s enemies, and his cousin sold into slavery, with the ghost haunting Moth and giving him fits which cause him to be accused of witchcraft, his future father-in-law breaking off the engagment by selling his fiancee to be buried alive, and his own souls fighting and one eventually killing the other. The city is eventually destroyed by Nomads; Moth is offered the chance to become a shaman due to his multiple souls, accepting for a chance at revenge.
Book 2 deals with another character, Rafti, a woman who dies but is resurrected by Moth, accidentally possessed as well by the ghost of his fiancee. Rafti eventually reconciles her two souls, as does Moth; he reforges the king’s sword and helps the nomads sack another city, as well as fighting the demon that controls his people and being freed after his master sacrifices himself, allowing Moth to take his place.
Symbiote’s Crown deals with a mentally handicapped man and his not very attractive cousin dimensionally travelling to a colony world where they get new bodies, where religious rituals let them connect to a godlike alien consciousness; Nightchild deals with a character born with vampiric alien ancestry attempting to survive and eventually redeeming his people; Ancestral Hungers was published and then later republished with significant changes, the author evidently not being happy with it, and involves a man dealing with his family’s link to Satan that lets them control vampire ancestors through sexual rituals, but become vampires when they die. Another (Webs) I haven’t read.

Typological Notes

Types that I’d mainly considered as possible for Baker initially were 1, 8 and (less likely) 6, finally settling on ‘1’ – the addiction noted in his bio seeming unusual but being possibly a way to release heavy inner tension i.e. a ‘trapdoor 1’ strategy.

Overall at a ‘centres’ level, his characters seem to have instinctive centre primary; his descriptions of primitive people are particularly good, with societies or religion being strongly driven by custom and ritual (cf. Gurdjieff’s description of “man number one”), though feeling is also apparent. Feelings focus on anger (e,g, as suggested by the title ‘Drink the Fire From the Flames’), with themes of revenge and of anger giving magic powers, although positive emotions like love, etc. are also very strong, the combination at times generating inner conflicts (such as at one point where Moth’s father loses him then finds them again, they first slap him hard, and then are extremely relieved).
Ones generally feel a particular resonance around themes of good/evil, despite this being particularly cliche; Baker instead largely avoids this in favour of having ‘bad guy’ characters – his characters do a number of things that he probably (and Ones generally) would absolutely not do, perhaps deliberately – for example, in the first Ashlu book a character declared man of the house for three days while their father is busy elsewhere, making their mother do heavy plowing on the farm without raising a finger.

Themes around trust (mentions of words like ‘truth’ and ‘innocence’ are apparent, that would be more expected in 8 as the core ideas for that type, as well as vengeance); ‘freedom’ also occurs fairly often as a theme (=2). (Eight-ish stuff is heavy enough I’d wondered if there is an uncredited co-author at work there; or perhaps, a parental influence might be involved in his actual personality).
However, the ‘holy idea’ of the Perfectionist One  is used extremely, almost amazingly, often in the text: e.g. Just in Drink the Fire From the Flames, for example: “a dream imperfectly grasped”…”she smiled, baring perfect teeth”; “…they were among the few whose perfection of Loiia had allowed them to survive the choices of their previous life stages…” among others. Symbiote’s Crown describes colonists transformed into immobile asexual sentient crystals as ‘perfect and alone and immortal’ (perfect how?).
“Firedance” has a particularly Perfection-themed scene, where one of the main characters travels to the afterlife, where they must perfectly redraw the pattern of their individual fingerprints in order to earn reincarnation, or have their soul eaten – which is then interfered with by sorcery:

…she only that it was wrong, horribly impossibly wrong, that nothing new or different or unexpected could ever be allowed to happen here, where all was as it always had been, as it always would be, and as it always had to be, here where any change whatsoever could only be a falling away from the universe’s one possible perfection. …she knew even as she struggled that she was lost forever, caught up in something utterly beyond her comprehension, utterly evil, that she was beyond all hope.

The ‘perfection’ focus seems to flow through to the endings of his books: ‘Nightchild’ for instance has a too-perfect utopian ending – the vampiric alien race there is redeemed, and even all those they have consumed over ages are restored to life. Ancestral Hungers and Symbiote’s Crown instead end a page early at a cliffhanger –  hinting at a perfect ending but not quite going there. In one a character waits for their love to (perhaps) wake from the dead as promised would happen, while in the other a character is given the choice to link to the alien god promising utopia; this structure being possibly a compromise of sorts between needing a perfect ending, and feeling that going that far is too much.
Baker also has a marked tendency to have characters who feel imperfect: Moth has epileptic fits due to spirit possession; Rafti is disfigured; Amber [Symbiote’s Crown] is intellectually disabled; Jane [Symbiote’s Crown] is ugly (all resolve their flaws, however). In other themes, resurrection of characters is fairly common in his books (perhaps, fixing an error). Judgment is also a common theme – in the first book of Ashlu getting into the Fair is past a ‘Judge’, in another short story ‘The Lurking Duck’ a man is on trial for duck trapping, in Nightchild when one character attempts to kill another, they are judged and are sentenced to share the same body, giving the main character a (pretty critical) inner companion.
Other characters also act consistently with One behaviour relatively frequently:
*e.g. inner tension:

She was smiling —white teeth, tanned skin, long soft blond hair—but behind the smile her jaw was knotted and ugly with the tensions that never left her, that ground her teeth together while she slept no matter how many sleeping pills she took, that turned on her and tried to destroy her the instant she stopped moving, stopped pushing, stopped striking out.

(relates to the main character’s wife Alexandra in Dhampir)
*Idealization of partner: Alexandra’s replacement in Dhampire, Dara, appears and there’s basically ‘love at first sight’, with the two very rapidly starting a relationship despite knowing very little about each other (perhaps a ‘definitely not a Six’ moment, one of the other two types I’d considered primarily).
*moral outrage: when Rafti sees Cama, a shamaness whose lack of healing skills may have killed her older brother, avoiding work (the older people not fire-walking, normally are meant to rake the coals for the ceremony): Rafti saw Cama among them and had to suppress her anger; the woman was old enough now she should have been raking the coals if she couldn’t walk them.
* Punctuality: Moth’s father Ri Tal in the first Ashlu book hates being late; he is also relatively authoritarian and very concerned with maintaining high standards in his profession (potting).
*Jealousy [One sexual subtype] comes across in one short story, “Varicose Worms”, where a man is extremely possessive/controlling of his wife. Diet/weight control is also a theme there.
*Inquisitorial behaviour: Symbiote’s Crown has a puritanical planet called “Oneness”; ‘we know you can be perfected’.
*highly moral behaviour, at odds with feelings:

“But he’s a Nomad!” Tramu said.
“So much the better, ” Sklar Ton said firmly. Moth looked at him in surprise. “Casnut’s code of honor is different from ours, but he’s a totally -and I mean totally-honorable man. If you met him away from the Fair he would probably knife you and steal everything you had, because he’d see nothing wrong with that; but here he’s Judge, and he’ll uphold the honor of the oaths sworn here with his life, if need be. He’d sentence all his sons to death by torture if his honor as the Judge required it. “
“I thought you said they didn’t think there was anything wrong with breaking the law, ” Tramu said.
“Not with breaking the law, no, but violating their oaths is a different matter. “

*cleanliness themes come through occasionally, e.g. tapeworms in his short story Varicose Worms.

Wing Determination

Intensity of both positive and negative feelings fits 1w2 – see ‘related authors’, below. Characters are relatively ‘status conscious’, and the society has a strong caste system. Characters frequently feel ‘pride’: ‘he was proud of how they all looked, though embarrassed he had as yet no [ceremonial] staff of his own; ‘he was so proud he couldn’t keep himself from grinning idiotically.’ This conversely leads characters to occasionally feeling slighted or shamed, or having bad characters try to humiliate them (e.g bullying).

Other Notes

Baker does differ from standard 1 in a couple of areas that probably need discussion. In some fantasy works, the idea of some evil being imprisoned that wants release seems like a metaphor for a repressed part of the self – e.g. Robert Louise Stephenson [author of ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’] would be very probably a One. Another movie reference of recently would be Tron: Legacy, where Flynn talks about perfection before the final scene, where he reintegrates with his evil [or at least inflexible] copy, Clu.

[One themes come through also in e.g. screwing up – when Flynn’s son Sam nearly gets Quorra killed – as well as Clu’s outbursts of anger – though note the movie has multiple writers credited]. Diane Duane would be another probable One author that likes this sort of theme (e.g. the Dark One in her “young wizards” series, and her Star Trek novel Dark Mirror).
The ‘shadow’ idea is a basic idea that isn’t necessarily type specific, however (being a trope that’s widely encountered in fantasy), but may be of particular resonance to Ones – a ‘good’ personality implying a separation from unacceptable aspects just as other types particularly avoid things like ‘own needs’ [2], ‘failure’ [3], or ‘vulnerability’ [8]. ( A thing I find interesting is that perfection is a word that in English has dual meanings of ‘without flaw’ and ‘complete’ – e.g. a ‘perfect circle’).
Baker doesn’t really seem to deal with an inner darkness the same way, but an interesting facet of Baker’s work is his discussion of individuality and the various characters having a feeling of multiple ‘selves’, which may be a similar or related theme. This comes across in the Ashlu books where the shamans resolve inner conflicts by reintegration or at least acceptance of other aspects (another minor character also appears, a bard visiting an exorcist to remove the ‘spirits within him that are reviling people’; suggesting he can’t control this because he’s separated or rationalized it). The sort of feeling of multiple selves also seem to appears in several Nines however (Silverberg 9w8, Simak 9w1, Watt-Evans 9w1), and in Keith Laumer (1w9, e.g. in ‘The Ultimax Man’), though not in the 1w9 case studied here (Philip E. High).

Related Authors

A few other probable Ones identified so far have (at least at times) experimented with ‘bad guy’ characters at times – for example Harlan Ellison’s somewhat disturbing ‘A Boy and his Dog’ has misogynistic themes and a psychopathic protagonist; SF critic Damon Knight’s “Country of the Kind” likewise has a psychopath main character. Across the ‘wing’ border, Piers Anthony (2w1) generally has moral characters but one book (‘Chthon’, also published under the name ‘Earth’) has an extreme sexual sadist protagonist (justified in context as having a genetic basis) (for Piers Anthony as a 2w1, if you believed Riso’s theory of type formation, his 1-wing would represent the maternal influence and so the characters’ mother ‘Malice’ maybe represents a ‘dark mother’ rather than ‘dark father’ like the actual 1s) . It seems plausible that the tendency to have bad guy characters seems perhaps more common in the more rebellious 1w2, 1w9 being more conventional and having better control or repression of angry emotions, though Knight’s and Ellison’s wings are both not entirely certain.
Star Wars director George Lucas, I believe would be a 1w2 and similarly we see themes around anger (the ‘Dark Side’), and a tendency to have the father as bad guy (Darth Vader, as compared to evil or remote father characters in Baker’s Symbiote’s Crown and Dhampir, and an authoritarian father and evil grandfather in the Ashlu cycle). Baker and Lucas share the same sort of very high ‘intuition’, represented in his stuff about ‘the force’ (secondary intuition [Ni], personified in Obi-Wan and later Leia), as opposed to the religious or shamanic themes of Baker’s works. The theme of a mentor sacrificing themself and being replaced by the protagonist is also present in both.
Terry Goodkind, another probable 1w2, again shows a dark father motif (‘Darken Rahl’), and like Baker shows the same sort of polarization of feeling with very strong intensity to both love and hate; Goodkind’s books fit in the more typical good/evil focus seen for Ones, with a tendency to moralize (he being a follower of Ayn Rand, another One).
Anne McCaffrey in her writing shows similar sorts of anger themes as Baker, and has a theme of imperfection in characters that seems familiar as well (e.g. a woman has her attractiveness boosted after an alien abduction in ‘Restoree’, or the ship Helva’s deformities in ‘The Ship Who Sang’); romantic and/or sexual themes seem relatively strong and seem to fit with /w2.
Note: For a wing comparison to 1w9, see the Philip E. High case study.


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