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Beyond Redemption
by Michael R Fletcher
HarperCollins, $14.99, 512pp
Published June2015

Surely one of the most interesting fantasy novels I've read in decades, if ever, this book is certainly not for everyone but it is likely to become something special to those who appreciate what it achieves. Even author Michael Fletcher's agent felt that his novel was 'viscerally disgusting' and his characters 'repulsive.' She's not wrong, but I'm thankful that she then offered to represent him, as this is a unique tour de force without any obvious comparison.

In many ways, 'Beyond Redemption' is about as dark as it can get. The basic idea is that if something is believed strongly enough, it becomes manifest, which generally happens here in one of two ways. Either enough people believe in the same thing that it becomes so or one man believes strongly enough in his own delusions that they become flesh. Needless to say, neither of these bode well for the world Fletcher depicts, which is effectively shaped by madmen, and the madder they are the more effectively they do their shaping.

Perhaps because this state of affairs would be a dream world to a mad master manipulator like Adolf Hitler, Canadian author Fletcher uses German terminology to keep things dark. Hitler wrote in 'Mein Kampf' that, 'If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself.' Fletcher's Geistrekranken merely take it another step, namely that believing it makes it so.

He also delves deep into the real world of neurology in order to take a wild set of mental disorders and bring them to fantastic life within this insane framework. Gefahrgeists, or sociopaths, are only the beginning, because once you allow any delusion to become real, you open the doors to untold horror; the human brain is a powerful organ indeed and it can go wrong in wild ways.

The most powerful Geistrekranken within the story is surely Konig Furimmer, who is comorbidic, which means that he has multiple delusions. Beyond the sociopathy that pervades all the major characters, he's also a mirrorist and a doppelgangist, so believing that his reflections in mirrors are completely separate people and that he has doubles who are at once himself and capable of completely separate thought and deed. In other words, Konig has three doubles, Abandonment, Acceptance and Trepidation, who all conspire to kill and replace both him and each other, and a host of reflected versions who offer caged advice but also plan to destroy him by dragging him into their dimensions. Being utterly delusional in this world translates into massive power, which he gets to wield as the high priest of the Geborene Damonen, a powerful religion. He's so mad and so ambitious that, despite the constant fear he has of his doubles and mirror images, he believes that he is destined to create a god.

Being the most powerful Geistrekranken also means that many Geistrekranken work for him. Gehirn Schechtes, for example, is a hassebrand or pyromaniac with a belief that she can immolate anyone and anything at will, often out of sheer rage because of incessant loneliness. In Fletcher's hands, whole towns erupt into flame through her anger, something that becomes targeted when she falls under the spell of a slaver, Erbrechen Gedanke. So strongly does he believe that people worship him that they feel compelled to do so, following him in a demented caravan, literally unable to do anything but bathe in his love. This is far from a pretty sight, as you might imagine. They don't eat unless he asks them to cook one of their number. They let bodily functions happen as they walk, utterly oblivious to hygiene. They simply keep walking in his trail until they die.

These aren't even the worst. Cotard's Syndrome is a real mental disorder, in which sufferers believe they are dead and rotting, but still walking around. Konig uses Cotardists as assassins, along with Therianthropes who transform into beasts and flesh-eating Wendigasts. After all, if Cotardists believe themselves dead, how can they be killed?

You might wonder if there's anyone in this story who deserves any of our sympathy or support. There isn't. Bedeckt Imblut, who is described at the end of the book as 'warrior, liar, thief, killer' is really as close as we get, because he leads a trio of likeminded characters who we follow almost by habit because everyone else is far more repulsive than they are. We do wonder why they're ever in the story for a while, until they discover that the god that Konig plans to create is a young boy named Morgen, so they kidnap him for ransom but find more in the experience than they ever expected.

Bedeckt is a shambling mess of an old man, keeping moving apparently only by entropy and his accepted task of leading his companions. One is female, Stehlen Siealles by name, a compulsive thief and just as compulsive killer. The other is Wichtig Lügner, who believes himself the greatest swordsman in the world so feels compelled to challenge the greatest swordsman in every town in which they find themselves just to prove his point. How these are remotely sympathetic, I have no idea, but Fletcher keeps us reading. Maybe he's a slaver himself.

Perhaps it's because everyone in this world suffers. Even the most powerful suffer from the results of their own delusions but the weakest, the regular human beings, suffer the most, because they have to go through all the motions in the full realisation that there's always another Geistrekranken ready to wander into town and destroy it or them in any number of horrific ways, for no better reason that they're insane.

I've really only scratched the surface of this novel but could keep going for much longer. However you'll surely get worn down by my suggestions of horror. I recommend 'Beyond Redemption' wholeheartedly as a masterpiece of stunning originality but doubt that one in a hundred fantasy readers will appreciate it. It really isn't the sort of book anyone enjoys, but some will recognise how hard it truly is to create something original and realise that this deserves more recognition than it's ever going to get.

There isn't a unicorn anywhere to be found, but if there was, one of these characters would either rape it or eat it or both. There are no fairies or elves or orcs. There are no vampires. Nothing here is recognisable from our usual fantasy frame of reference. The closest we might come to comparing it to something known would be Robert E Howard's 'Conan' stories, except that 'sword and sorcery' would become 'death and delusion' and the bloodshed is far greater and far less purposeful here.

Maybe we'd have to go back to mediaeval depictions of Hell, because this could just be the literary equivalent of a Hieronymous Bosch landscape of horror. It's also a reminder to us of the truest horror, that we might go mad ourselves. After all, as Norman Bates famously told us, 'We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven't you?' This is an exploration of what that might mean. ~~ Hal C F Astell

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