Monday, March 5, 2012

Rants. Deaths. Other Things.

First: my friend and colleague Paul Haines just died.

I didn't know Paul nearly as long, nor as well as I would have liked. But he was an extraordinary man. He wrote horror, and he wrote it very, very fucking well.

Most horror does nothing to me. Stephen King? Heh. It's fantasy. Fairy tale stuff. Fun. Dean Koontz? Oh, please! Lovecraft? An entertaining mummer. Ramsay Campbell? Hell, I read Ramsay Campbell when I can't get to sleep. Makes me snoozy.

Haines' stuff was fucking fearsome.

It was fearsome because, paradoxically, he was a remarkably kind, sensitive man. I like to think of myself as relatively kind, reasonably sensitive. But in me, that degree of empathy makes it next to impossible for me to explore the really ugly flipside of those things. Haines? Oh - he could do it. He could write freaky cannibal serial killer characters, put you in their shoes, make you sympathise with them even while they dismembered and ate other people. He could make you like the most terrifyingly repugnant people, even while as you sat back and freaked out at what those people were doing. He picked up just about every award that you can get in horror in the Southern hemisphere, and if he'd had the chance, he'd have picked up the rest, too. In other words, he understood horror in a way that only a kind, sensitive person can understand it. You have to be able to be scared of it to understand how to scare others with it. Capisce?

Haines understood what horror really is, and how, and why. He was astonishingly good at it, and for that alone, I am infinitely the poorer for his passing. But there are other reasons I will miss him.

Mr Haines died from bowel cancer. He fought it, long and hard, and bought himself a couple of extra years with cutting-edge medical interventions. For most people, the pain and the degradation involved with the kind of drug and radiation regime that Paul endured simply wouldn't be worth the effort. My mother, for example. She knew. She had the colostomy, and she tried the chemo, and when the sheer physical cost of those things began to strike home, she quietly -- and very sensibly and reasonably -- gave up, and simply settled for appropriate palliative care. And I don't blame her for a moment.

But Paul had a daughter, and this year she will be six. He fought for an extra two years, and if you all search your own memories, you'll understand. The difference between being four and being six is enormous. 

Paul's daughter will remember him. They won't be sharp memories, and there won't be a lot of them, but she will remember, and she will treasure the memories that she keeps. And I knew Paul well enough to understand what that simple fact meant to him. For him, all the pain and the ugliness he went through to get those two extra years was worth every second, and if he could have gone through twice as much just to have another few weeks, he would have done so. Paul loved his daughter, his family, in a way that only a man who really understand loss and horror can love, and I can't say just how much I admired that in him.

But it's that struggle which produced one of the moments which for me, defines Paul Haines. He undertook a particularly aggressive form of radiation therapy at one point. It was so strong, so nasty, that for about two weeks the medicos advised him that he should remain at least five metres away from other people. Particularly young people. Young people such as his daughter.

(There is a very Haines kind of horror in the fact that I can imagine how it felt for him to spend two weeks unable to approach his small daughter, knowing that she couldn't possibly understand why Dad couldn't just pick her up and hug her. I understand that. I feel that. It makes my skin crawl. It hurts. That's what Haines' horror writing did to me. Again: I really cannot convey how much I admire that skill, that talent.)

When the two weeks were over, Haines reappeared on his blog, in a photo. There wasn't a lot of text with it, but I remember the photo. I remember it well, and I doubt I will ever forget, because it made me laugh until I cried. In the photo, Paul lay on a bed next to his daughter. The two of them were reading a comic together. The photo was sharp, and it was easy to read the masthead on the comic. It was one of the "Simpsons Comics" stable.

It was a "Radioactive Man" comic.  And that, in one image, is Paul Haines.

Paul... mate, if you're reading this somehow, wherever you are: save me a seat, you bastard. I'll be there soon enough, and then we can sort the fuckers out together...


Yep. Okay. Enough.

There was a hiatus. I'm sorry. I came back from the ROR week, and realised I was absolutely fucked. School holidays are damned hard on me. I spend a lot of time in the school year as a driver, tutor, teacher of martial arts and music; as a father, as a masters degree student, as a student of Iai-do, as the manager of a 50 acre rural property; as a cook, a gardener, a husband, and yes, as a writer and an editor. There's a lot in that list, I know, but during school time I can almost make it work.

During school holidays?

Yeah. Let's not go there. Suffice it to say that for two separate one-week sessions in January I was a sole parent, and I finished off with a week at an intensive manuscript workshop with professionals like Margo Lanagan, Richard Harland, Tansy Roberts and Rowena Cory Daniells. And then I discovered how much work I had to do on my MA, and how far behind I was on emails and stuff. And of course, all this was in and around the Great Fucking Telephone and Internet Failure. In the meantime, there were visitors and friends moving into the state from elsewhere, and way too much else to go into.

I've been desperately trying to catch up. I'm almost there. I think. Maybe. Or maybe not. I'm still desperately sending out files, writing shit, reading, researching, typing, reading, emailing, and all that. Gmail is giving me the shits. I'm pretty fucking unhappy with all the shiny new interface bullshit they've put into place. Somehow, it's lost a dozen or more emails that I thought I'd stored under one particular label. Who knows? Maybe it's lost a fuckload more. I wouldn't know: I've only been searching under that one particular label to this point.

Either way, I don't really care for the new look, the new cross-linking, the new "one size fits all" privacy policy that we MUST read, simply MUST read, every time we open a different one of our Google-related sites.

Google: as politely as possible -- get fucked. I don't fucking WANT to integrate all my emails behind one address. I have one that I use for signing onto various web bullshit sites (including yours, you fuckwads) which acts as a spamtrap. I have another one with one of your various rivals, and I have yours. There is a fucking reason I maintain three, and I don't fucking WANT you pricks to read everything from the other two emails and aggregate them into Gmail.

Let's go farther, shall we? Or not, no. I don't think I'll point out here in public how I've violated your terms of service here and there. I will say this: there's a fucking good reason for doing so, and I firmly believe that my actions are completely reasonable. Turf me if you want, but I don't need your pissant fucking "services" as much as I need my simple privacy in a few places.

And as for all these nifty fucking bells and whistles you've recently added... jeeze, I wish I could get hold of your CEO. Because if I could, there would be no bells nor whistles on my Google sites, but your idiot fucking CEO would jingle when he walked and whistle whenever he farted.

All right. There's more to come, I'm sure, but for the moment this is enough. I'm back.

Now I'm going to go and pour a glass of rum in honour of Paul Haines.

Good night.


  1. I'm very sorry about your friend.

    1. Ah. It's one of those things. He'd fought long enough. Every day cost him, in pain, in bodily distress. I'm not sorry for his death. I am most terribly angry about the cancer, though, and I am unspeakably sorry for his wife and daughter.

      I don't know if you read horror at all, but if you do, you should Google around, and try to pick up some of his work. I promise you this: if you enjoy horror fiction, once you've read Haines' stuff, you too will be tremendously sorry that he didn't live longer.

      ... and thank you for the kindness, Ma'am. Look me up next time you cross the waters and come south, eh?

  2. I am very sad over the death of your friend. I don't read horror but I will nevertheless find and read his work to honour the two years he gave his daughter.

    1. Fair enough.

      There's not a lot of his work around, but the one you really want to see is "Wives". It's a long novella; pulled just about every award you can get down here.

      I'd argue (and Haines thought likewise, or he said so when we talked about it) that it wasn't intended as horror. It's actually a cyberpunk piece, and a really good one. It's just that it's not about the shiny, clever, computer-hacky end of cyberpunk. Nope: it's about the dead-end towns where all hope has been lost due to the ecological and economic fallout of the transformation of the world into a "cyberpunk" place.

      It's horrid. It also deserved all those awards.

    2. Then that is the one I want to see. And will.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I'm sorry for the loss of your friend, and it seems our loss of a talented writer as well. I shall find some of his works and then find time to read them.

  5. While horror and I never shall meet, the loss of a talent is always a terrible thing. Especially when it is accompanied by what seems to have been a remarkable amount of bravery. May his daughter's memories be good ones.

    1. He was a very fine, very decent man. And his talent was a wonderful paradox. I don't much care for horror either, but I accept that any writing which can affect me emotionally in the manner truly intended by the author is good work. Paul did very good work. So good that it was uncomfortable, sometimes, to be in his company. It was hard to reconcile the kind, funny, witty, gentle man with the really unsettling stuff he wrote.

      I miss him. The National Convention this year is going to be much less without him.