BP&P Research: Stories about Death
So, I'm still working on research of various kinds for Beyond Porch & Portal, and among other things I've been trying to find stories about psychopomps to try to get a sense of what's been done a million times already with the theme (soon I will start looking for folklore about psychopomps, too--any recommendations there are welcome). This has proved surprisingly difficult! "Stories about psychopomps" isn't really a genre.
Anyway, I decided to grab a couple of books that seemed relevant and start reading. Might as well document my progress, for my own records as much as anything else.
Ghost Story by Jim Butcher
This is not actually about psychopomps, but I didn't realize that going in. Someone on a forum had mentioned it in connection with psychopomps. It's an installment in the Dresden Files, which people have periodically recommended to me in the past. This makes the second Dresden I've read.
Basically, if you like contemporary movies with action elements, you will probably like this book. It reads like a movie. There are a bunch of explosions. People make wisecracks. Also there's some ghost stuff.
I'm not someone who likes these things (aside from the ghosts, obviously, as I am a sucker for ghosts). I was raised on black-and-white movies; while I don't believe that modern films are inferior I've never fully transitioned to the idiom, so the pacing of this book was just weird and disorienting to me. I know a lot of people like the Dresden books, but they don't work for me. If you also find modern movies disorienting you will probably not enjoy Ghost Story.
A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore
This is about psychopomps, and has a conceit that I found pretty engaging: souls are encased in objects, and psychopomps are thrift store owners and antique dealers and so on who sell the souls to people who don't already have souls. Also there's a plot about darkness rising.
However. This is a book that's supposed to be funny--but a lot of the jokes don't work. There's this running thing about the Beta Male, for instance, that relies less on observation about human nature than about facetious application of PUA theories. Also, if you don't like a lot of sex jokes, you won't enjoy this (I don't, so I didn't).
When I reached the end I realized that what I really wanted was for someone like Terry Pratchett to have written this exact premise. Pratchett is much kindlier in his humor and I think a book about death and helping people's souls would have benefitted from that touch. Also, let's be frank, Pratchett at his best writes much tighter plots.
The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher
This is not even slightly about psychopomps, but I feel really bad writing a post that's all "I didn't like this book," so I'll leave you with one I read recently that I did like quite a lot. This one is based on the folktale "Mr. Fox" as well as some Bluebeard, so it's about a young woman (named Rhea) engaged to be married to a man with some disturbing secrets, which she discovers, and then must escape.
This story is fun. That's just it. The characters are likable (with a few exceptions, of course) without losing their edge, the imagery is wonderfully weird and creepy, and while the plot isn't particularly intricate or surprising it's very fun to follow Rhea from start to finish. If you would like a story that will keep you reading and let you spend time with some interesting people in an interesting place, and come out feeling fairly satisfied, this is a good story. I foresee it being a periodic comfort read.
Now, I am going to try to track down more books about psychopomps. Still open for suggestions here, as well as for anything along the lines of retrofuture fantasy.
More on all of this as it develops.