Today the unthinkable happened: I ate something that tasted like Bacon and I hated it. I have long maintained that the kingly flavour of crispy bacon can improve any culinary creation. Maple glazed Bacon. Bacon sprinkles on ice cream. Bacon wrapped shrimp. Bacon wrapped bacon. And so on. Fortunately I am not wealthy enough to fully satisfy my appetite for the mightiest of porkmeats or I would likely have suffered some kind of bacon induced fatality (the tastiest form of death!).
But today I had my comeuppance in the form of a Bacon flavoured mint.
The bacon flavoured mint is an abomination, something dredged up from the twisted mind of a mad scientist who is overly fond of barbeque and pork based chemical engineering. Upon popping the tiny mint, I was greeted by a surprising burst of pure bacony flavour equal to a decently cooked slice of piggy’s finest. After a mere heartbeat this essence quickly changed, leaving an aftertaste that made me feel like I’d chugged a can of week-old bacon grease. Then the mint kicked in. Apparently bacon and mint are not friends. No sir, they do not mix well. It was absolutely terrible… I no longer have absolute faith in Bacon: may pork have mercy on my belly.
Now, what does this have to do with anything that isn’t silly or bacon-related?
The core lesson of my ill-fated encounter with bacon-mints is that just because I really, really like something does not mean that it has a place in everything I do. This is certainly true of writing.
Genre Mashups are big deal in gaming right now, and have started to have influence into writing as well. The basic idea of a genre mashup in gaming is to take a whole bunch of elements from different games, throw them together, shake until blended and then play. Kingdom hearts combines Disney with Final Fantasy and other Square Enix properties to create an epic adventure that is part anime and part classic Disney and somehow entirely original. The Shadowrun RPG blends a cyberpunk dystopia with the sudden return of magic including a large percentage of the world population mutating into Tolkien style fantasy races. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a book that mixes Jane Austen’s period classic with flesh eating undead.
Of course, for every good mashup, there are many failures or flawed works. I remember my own attempt to mix cool Space Marine style power armour and a pure fantasy world. The characters were cool, but the world ultimately lacked any real details that would explain the presence of powered armour. I mean if the people of that world can create that kind of awesome technology, which is beyond our present grasp, then why wouldn’t they have cars and the flu vaccine. If the armour was a rare lost artifact of a bygone age, and thus powerful and rare, why was it in the hands of a group of people who were, at best, adventurers: that kind of power makes kingdoms, if not empires. I didn’t think it through, and the setting fell apart in a hail of rune enhanced autocannon ammunition (poor kobolds).
Yet for all the challenges, the allure remains strong. Perhaps my favourite mashup is the Dresden Files which mixes pulp detective fiction with every single cool magical fantasy trope that Jim Butcher can think of. The Genius of the Dresden files is that mr Butcher somehow manages to make room for all of these in his world without it seeming crowded or silly. That’s quite an achievement when one of the books involves four different types of werewolves (I’m not talking sub-types like clans here, but full-on origins) and another has a character riding a T-rex. Then again the author did write another series that blended Pokemen with a lost Roman legion, and somehow made that work too. I think what Mr Butcher does is integrate each element of cool carefully, and fully consider the implications to his world. In addition each element is usually directly involved in the plot, which makes it seem less like window dressing.
Steampunk is an example of a whole genre that works well with Mashups. Mad clockwork technology and ancient mysticism work very well in an early industrial age setting, partly because they had some real world believers at those times.
So let’s say I love zombies, but I also love Hellenistic epics. I can’t just throw zombies into the Trojan war and call it a setting, I have to consider how the blend of these two elements is going to work. What would the introduction of Zombies do to the Trojan war? A bad mashup would just follow the outline of the Iliad thow in some undead and call it a day. If the Zombies were infectious, they could quickly overwhelm the Greeks who have no walls to protect them. Some of the Greeks could escape to their ships. Achilles, would of course be immune to Zombie bites unless they got him on the heel. The Zombies would indiscriminately attack both sides, and the survivors would either escape across the sea or take shelter in Troy. Then there’s the divine angle. The Gods took a great interest in the Trojan war, and Zombies would definitely mean that one of them was meddling, answering that question could lead to a great plot point…
Then again, just because I think zombies are cool, doesn’t mean I should try to put them in everything.
As an aside, I was walking home from the dayjob at 11 PM this evening and noticed a whole group of people dressed up for Valentines day. I saw a guy dressed as a teddy bear escorting a pack of young ladies in full costume. Is this a thing now? If so, I approve!