Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Anatomy of a Horror Setting #15: Leaving Traces

It's a general truth that nothing can be done that doesn't leave some kind of evidence behind. There is always something left behind in some sense. The perfect crime could be committed yet something remains whether it is something missing with a robbery, or a body with a murder, or again the person missing. The only question is how much evidence is left and can it be connected to the perpetrator. The same is true when the focus moves to the psychic criminal or hero doing their respective things. The evidence they leave behind tends though toward more intangible types, or the kind that can only really be investigated by another psychic. Additionally, whether a suspect in some act, criminal or not, is normal or a psychic is another bit of evidence in and of itself.

The first question to be asked when setting up a psychic horror setting with this context in mind is this. Can a psychic know that another psychic is involved in a situation? If the answer is yes, the second question must come immediately. How much can a psychic tell about a psychic event not of his or her doing? The answer to this question spawns new powers, new uses for existing powers, and further questions regarding the affect of all of this on the mood of the setting. If the mood is already established for the setting then the pros and cons should be weighed more carefully. If the mood is not set, or the requirement that the setting needs--for a short story, a novel or series, a movie or TV show, or a game--then there is more leeway and the impact may be significantly less.

When everything is weighed and considered then it comes down to determining the factors involved in identifying psychic involvement. The first obvious power to be included is the ability of a psychic to spot other psychics upon meeting them. This can be a feeling or something visible, likely in the person's aura, or something completely different. Next would be to tell if someone is under the control of another psychic or a power. This is much the same as the other sense though tends more toward the aura, in fiction as it stands. Then comes what can be the deal breaker power, the ability to determine the identity of the psychic responsible for a psychic event or result. Such a fingerprint, or at least the ability to see and put it to use, leads to the next topic, next week.

Mood: happy.
Music: Slip Slide Melting by For Love Not Lisa and Dead Souls by Nine Inch Nails.

For Love Not Lisa: Merge
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The Crow: Original Soundtrack

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Anatomy of a Horror Setting #14: A Terrifying Example of Complexity and Control

The following is an exercise in pulling together the last two articles of this series along with a smattering of ideas from the rest of the series in one sprawling, spiralling example of horror. It all begins with an average man named Doug. Doug lives an ordinary life. He works a nine to five job while his wife Cynthia works from home and watches their children Melissa and Jake. One night Doug brings home a friend from work, Aaron. Aaron is quiet, polite, and unassuming. Doug and Aaron spend most of their time in the basement where Doug has a small shop set up in which to tinker around with things. Everybody likes Aaron--he's the perfect guest. Within a week Aaron is there every night. Within two weeks he almost never leaves.

Aaron is a powerful and amoral psychic. The first night that the children are out of the house--at a cousin's birthday party--he uses his hypnotic suggestion to convince Doug to stay in the basement. Then he goes to Cynthia in the illusory guise of Doug and tells her Aaron has left and they have some alone time. Going forward Aaron replaces Doug in the night with Cynthia a few times before his next move. He replaces Doug--who merrily works on things in the basement--with all of the family, in his disguise. This part of the first stage of his plan culminates in Aaron convincing the wife and children that he is Doug and Doug is Aaron. The real Doug continues to go to work unaware that anything is wrong. To cover himself and his treachery Aaron begins a new stage in his plan.

Aaron cajoles, convinces, and controls Cynthia to break off contact with her friends and family and has the kids pulled out of the public school system. He alienates Doug's family, and Doug's reclusion except for work pushes his friends away. Then the next-door neighbour mysteriously commits suicide. The house won't sell--stories come out about it being haunted. The house whose lot backs onto the haunted house becomes empty next. Next another neighbour is sent to jail for hiring out, via an intermediary, the murder of another neighbour. Aaron has taken over Doug's entire private life and has no further interference because of the buffer of vacant unsellable homes completely encircling his. Aaron has his own little kingdom, and the kicker is Doug never knew Aaron before that first night.

Mood: sprightly.
Music: Rock & Roll Saviors by Twisted Sister and Never Say Never by Twisted Sister.

Twisted Sister: Club Daze (Volume 1)
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Twisted Sister: Club Daze (Volume 2)

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Anatomy of a Horror Setting #13: Spying; Influence; Abuse

Welcome to the thirteenth topic in this series, brought to you on the thirteenth day. I would like to stress that though I make comparisons below I am not equating any of these things, or viewing them as being the same level of terrible, whether they be real or fictional.

There are ties between knowledge and power, power and control, and control and abuse of another. It can all be one vicious circle, or a tangled knot where all of these elements bleed together into one. Today, this very instant, people are using the usually annoying, sometimes costly to the target, technical tools of spyware and adware to enforce their control over spouses, significant others, and children whom they are also abusing in physical, sexual, and other psychological manners. They are also using tracking means such as GPS units, medical implants such as RFID chips, and other physical media of the same type. This is frightening stuff, terrible abuses, of not only the people, but also the technology of the modern world, tainting it with such hideous connotations.

These additional forms of control and abuse are easier to spot than other signs, especially after criminal investigation is begun. Enter the psychic to once more hide and obfuscate these heinous acts. A psychic with the right powers can perform these same intrusions of privacy and forms of indirect manipulation. As well, the psychic can subject the victim to more direct methods. Both of these can also be done with much less to actually no evidence. Take the venerable hypnosis as an example. It's amusing to convince galactic militants that the robots they seek aren't the ones standing to the left. It's entirely a nightmare to be incapable of speaking of the torment inflicted upon oneself, or to have criminal investigators unable to see the bruises and scars.

From a control point of view there are several psychic options. The victim can have their mind read for imagined transgressions--the cornerstone of abuse excuses--while the psychic was absent, or to determine plans to escape, or to patrol for impure or improper thoughts. Similarly, remote viewing can be used to monitor and check in on the victim. Changing gears, abusers will often distance their victim from family and friends. What better way to do that than false emotion transmission, altered memories of slights or grievous betrayals, or memory blocks that prevent the person from remembering the victim? Worse yet perhaps, these same techniques can be used to alienate the victim from loved ones, or to not remember them, leaving the victim truly alone with their abuser.

Mood: content.
Music: Laughing in the Hiding Bush by Bruce Dickinson and More Than a Feeling by Boston.

Bruce Dickinson: Balls to Picasso
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Boston: Greatest Hits

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Anatomy of a Horror Setting #12: Like Ogres, Onions, and Cakes

Though it need not be true, seeing as how psychics are using the power of their minds, albeit in fantastic ways, these psychic people might also be fairly intelligent. With this in mind (pun intended) any psychic worth their mental abilities is going to employ more than just power to achieving their goals. For the criminal, opportunistic, or morally ambiguous types an excellent tool in their arsenal is working their plots and goals in layers. A "good" psychic might also put some of these techniques to use, but it may leave them feeling dirty. These ideas put toward getting to a desired solution are not new, and certainly not exclusive to psychics. They are not limited, either, to criminal enterprise, and they apply to the physical world as well as the electronic world.

The key advantage to using layers in problem resolution is to create distance between the psychic and their target. This is traditionally done by using proxies or surrogates, both of which serve the same purpose. Each stands in for the original person; they are replacements. The difference is that a surrogate only takes the person's place in the endeavour; the proxy also acts as the voice of the original, or makes decisions on their behalf. In simpler terms the surrogate or proxy is a third party. This is how, according to television, smart criminals hire a hitman. The crook tells somebody who works for them to contact a hitman to place a contract to have someone killed. This is a smart plan because the crook never meets the hitman and the hitman never knows who placed the contract.

A psychic can make someone commit murder, steal something, leaving a door open, or not log out of a computer. This of course is only one layer. By adding more layers the overall plan becomes stronger, father reaching, and perhaps even more subtle. Using the murder for hire situation as an example, it becomes a murder by proxy in the hands of a controlling psychic. The murder isn't connected, by normal means, to the psychic. However it may be entirely out of character for the murderer, leaving some suspicious. To alleviate this the psychic can create a motive for the murder, by forcing an altercation between the murderer and the victim. Witnesses can be made to remember additional events. In this way layer upon layer can be added until it can never be traced back to the psychic.

Mood: down.
Music: Paper Sun by Def Leppard and The Longest Day by Iron Maiden.

Def Leppard: Euphoria
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Iron Maiden: A Matter of Life and Death

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