I very much enjoyed the 1987 movie starring Steve Martin and John Candy, but that is not what I am writing about. In my book, Eugenica, the protagonists use planes, trains, and automobiles to escape their pursuers. Well, actually they use the singular of each of those modes of transport. One plane, a De Havilland Dragon Rapide, one train, a mixed goods and passenger service on a local line, and one car, a Bentley Speed Six Tourer. It is a fact long understood and appreciated by movie makers that using transport in chase scenes just ramps up the excitement.
In my younger days I enjoyed adventure stories. They all followed a very similar pattern of course and invariably they would have at least one chase, the better books usually more. Sometimes it would be on foot. Occasionally, it might include horses, but in the modern age nothing could beat mechanical transport for speed, danger, and edge of the seat thrills. When I started writing Eugenica I did not have an adventure story as such in mind. The first theme of the book was simply illustrating that the path to hell is paved with good intentions. The misguided principles of eugenics were turned from a promise of a better, healthier future into a nightmare of oppression, division, and control. One part of the book did this through an ongoing discussion of eugenics as a theory, the other was more practical and seen from the point of view of a group of people who were suffering the real-life consequences of the developing form of dysgenics.
Dysgenics is the negative form of eugenics. It was used by the Nazi government as justification for persecuting and trying to eradicate minorities including the disabled, gypsies, homosexuals, and of course the Jewish people. For a novel it makes for heavy going as subject matter.
The second theme of the book was the strength of the human spirit in adversity. Having created a world, an alternate 1930’s, where eugenics had become a government policy, I dropped a group of victims into it. As a writer you get to do such cruel things. They appeared totally overmatched for the trials that were to come their way. Young, alone, and each one with a different kind of disability they were pitched against a government ministry and all of its resources. Now that is an adverse situation to find yourself in.
As the story developed, I became aware of both how dark it had become and how much darker it could get. There was a point after a young girl died following a beating from the wardens who were supposed to be looking after her that caused me to stop and think where the book was going? I had two choices, the first, was further into the dark, the second was to affect an escape and let the heroes soar. I chose the second option. I could have pushed further into the darkness. I could have written a tale of injustice and the horror of how quickly one person starts treating another in an inhuman way, but I was finding it difficult to find a way out of that situation. It did not seem enough for my characters, particularly Grace and Tom, to just survive. Also, it would require other people to make the change happen that would bring an end to their torment. In my experience people often think that those with a disability always need help when in reality the disabled just want to do things for themselves.
That was the key. I wanted Grace and Tom to become masters of their own fate. To do that they had to escape. The moment that they put their plan into action the book took a turn in direction. Instead of following the path down to a dark place it turned and went into the light. Once the chase began the element of adventure was introduced. Consciously or unconsciously, those books that I read began to exert an influence over my writing. Grace, with her missing hand and leg, Tom with his blindness, Mary with her stunted body, and Hector having to use a wheelchair, became a very unlikely group of fugitives. It was fun writing about their adventures because the very limitations that arose from the disabilities that I gave each character demanded the use of imagination to get them out of the dangerous situations that they inevitably found themselves in.
Disabled people are rarely seen in a positive light. I believe that many display an uncommon strength of human spirit in just living their daily lives. Even more so when they get to do the things that they want to do. There are very few heroes with actual disabilities in the adventure genre. I wanted to put four more up for consideration. Of course, Eugenica is a fantasy. It is a piece of speculative fiction. It does not really compare to the trials that real people have to go through each day in this so-called civilised society. The ability of such people to display their strength of spirit to achieve even mundane acts should not be underestimated. I have yet to hear from a reader who thought that Grace, Tom, Mary, and Hector were not believable within the context of the book. I have heard from a number of people that they really liked them. I would like to think that my fantastic four are remembered for their stirring exploits, riding planes, trains, and automobiles to freedom, being able to achieve their own fates, rather than as merely disabled people dependent upon others.