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Old 09-08-2005, 09:52 PM
davenportavenger is offline
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Positive portrayals of mentally ill characters in fiction (esp SF)


I'm writing an academic paper that is going to involve, among other things, an exploration of positively portrayed mentally ill characters in science fiction, and I'm looking for characters and books I can reference. I'm not asking anyone to do my homework, I'm just seeing if there's something I might have missed over my years of reading SF that might work.

As for what I mean by "positive," I'm NOT looking for characters who are navel-gazers hung up on their issues (e.g. the main character in The Bell Jar), but instead a character who, despite their illness, manages to help others and has an instrumental hand in the outcome of the book (Jack Bohlen, in Phil Dick's Martian Time-Slip, is a perfect example). I want characters who might be affected by their illness, but AREN'T their illness, if you can catch my drift.

If someone wants to offer up non-SF or non-book examples, that might be cool too, since like I said I'm not asking anyone to do my homework and I might be able to use some of them. I always like seeing positive portrayals of mentally ill characters in media, so I'd be interested by what anyone throws out, even if I can't use it in said paper.
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Old 09-08-2005, 09:58 PM
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I think Cole from 12 Monkeys argueably fits your criteria.
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Old 09-08-2005, 10:38 PM
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Flowers for Algernon comes to mind.
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Old 09-09-2005, 01:08 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wearia
I think Cole from 12 Monkeys argueably fits your criteria.
Why? He didn't have anything wrong with him, he just wound up in a mental hospital cause no-one believed he was from the future.
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Old 09-09-2005, 01:30 AM
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Well, it's not strictly SF but Prot from Gene Brewer's K-PAX fits the profile. Although, It's up to you to decide if he is truly an alien occupying a human body or Robert Porter's delusion.
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Old 09-09-2005, 05:35 AM
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"Mirror Dance" by Lois McMaster Bujold. It's from her Miles Vorkosigan series, so if you read it on its own you'll miss a lot of background, but the story should be able to stand alone. We meet the same character in "Brothers in Arms" (takes place before MD), and afterwards in "A Civil Campaign" when he's been in therapy and is a lot better.

SPOILER:
The character has had a nasty childhood and youth (raised/brainwashed by terrorists who intend to use him as an assasin), and then when he's imprisoned and tortured, his personality splits. He then goes on to save the day.

Come to think of it, sergeant Bothari in the first books in the series ("Shards of Honor" and especially "Barrayar") also has serious mental issues, and is, despite committing some extremely ugly deeds, a hero of sorts.
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Old 09-09-2005, 05:46 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Silentgoldfish
Why? He didn't have anything wrong with him, he just wound up in a mental hospital cause no-one believed he was from the future.
I dunno, he did have that voice in his head.

OR DID HE?
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Old 09-09-2005, 06:05 AM
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I wouldn't say that the portrayal is entirely positive, but the character played by Michael Douglas in Falling Down is certainly one with which you can empathise, for the larger part of the movie; similarly the main character in The Mosquito Coast (played by Harrison Ford in the movie).

Also, Scobie, the main character in Graham Greene's Heart of the matter undergoes a breakdown that has a number of psychological components, yet the reader tends to pretty much agree with his choice of actions all the way through.
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Old 09-09-2005, 06:14 AM
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Maybe A Scanner Darkly by Dick as well?

Or I seem to remember there were various obsessed/mad characters on board the generation starship in Marrow by Robert Reed

The main character in Elizabeth Moon's Speed of Dark was autistic... as was the bloke in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (which was mainstream, rather than sf).
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Old 09-09-2005, 07:14 AM
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Unfortunately, it's not SF. But Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem is apparently a very realistic portrayal of Tourette's syndrome. It seemed very real to me...
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Old 09-09-2005, 03:12 PM
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Come to think of it, in Card's "Xenocide", the ruling caste on the planet Path suffer from OCD.
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Old 09-09-2005, 03:16 PM
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Also not science fiction, but the show "Monk" does.
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Old 09-09-2005, 03:35 PM
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Depending on how you define mentally ill: Tom Cullen in The Stand (He is retarded). An extremely well-written character who is instrumental to the entire plot.
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Old 09-09-2005, 08:06 PM
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I think the protagonist of Iain Banks' "Use of Weapons" fits your description to a T, and more than that I cannot say, for fear of giving too much away. I cannot imagine a better SF novel for your purposes, and I've read a lot of them.
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Old 09-09-2005, 08:10 PM
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It's possible that Billy Pilgrim from Slaughterhouse Five would qualify. His sanity is certainly debatable

Also, how about Yossarian or Oar from Catch 22? I think they probably were insane... just not as insane as many of those around them.
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Old 09-09-2005, 08:12 PM
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Scout's Honor by Terry Bisson
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Old 09-09-2005, 08:16 PM
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I was going to mention Card's Xenocide, as well. That one is well done.

'Madness has its place' by Larry Niven portrays a person who's employed to 'be insane' as a means of predicting the violent and such. He's pathological but it's used to good purpose.
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Old 09-09-2005, 08:20 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NoClueBoy
Scout's Honor by Terry Bisson


Not mentally ill* but rather, the protagonist is autistic. Not your regular time travel story. A Must Readô!




*I'm not going to lump retardation, autism, mental illnesses, etc... in the same basket. Thought you might want a little broader base, tho.
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Old 09-09-2005, 08:23 PM
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Not SF, but everybody seems to be reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, where the protagonist is an autistic boy. It's very well done, although I guess you'd say it's neutral - the boy just tells his own story. It starts out about him investigating the death of a neighbor's dog, but it turns out to be more about his life and his family.
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Old 09-09-2005, 08:45 PM
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The human detective who partners up with R. Daneel Olivaw in Asimov's Caves of Steel is an extreme agoraphobe, as are most members of his society.
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Old 09-09-2005, 09:32 PM
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Heinlein's main character from Double Star is a xenophobe. But he gots cured, so I'm not so sure it's valid.

In addition to Lois McMaster Bujold's Mark Vorkosigan, in the same book the author makes the point of showing the audience just how nuts Miles Vorkosigan is.

Also, her main character from Paladin of Souls is a recovering lunatic, in the full, old sense of the word. But that is a fantasy, not SF.

Her Sergeant Bothari character from Shards of Honor, Barrayar, and The Warrior's Apprentice is one seriously messed up dude. I'm not sure one could call him a positive portrayal, but I don't think he's a negative one, in spite of all his flaws.

It's harder for me to think of other authors who use characters that are obviously suffering from mental illnesses.

Tim Powers has often driven his characters mad. In The Anubis Gates, both the main character and the romance interest are suffering a number of mental illnesses. A better example might be his dealing with the Jaybirds in Dinner at Deviant's Palace.

I consider the main character in Robert Frezza's A Small Colonial War, Raul Sanmartin, to be suffering major depression. I'm not sure that he's aware of it. Nor that the author is really aware he's made a mentally ill character.

I hope this list offers you some places to look.
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Old 09-09-2005, 09:35 PM
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Crazy Jane from the Grant Morrison run of Doom Patrol has MPD.
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Old 09-10-2005, 04:18 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hildea
Come to think of it, in Card's "Xenocide", the ruling caste on the planet Path suffer from OCD.
I really should get around to reading Xenocide since the main character in the novel I'm writing suffers from OCD (among other things), but since it's supposed to be a follow-up to Ender's Game and the book after that I want to read them all in order. Might not make sense otherwise. Card's dickishness on certain political issues has kept me from reading him for some time, but according to people I trust EG-and-sequels don't have a Mormon/conservative agenda. I'll probably start EG tomorrow.

I'm quite familiar with the entire Dick catalogue, so we don't need to run through it, even though over half his books would fit the criteria. He's going to figure prominently in the paper, I can tell you that.
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Old 09-10-2005, 08:20 AM
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There's a Timothy Zahn story whose name I can't recall.

SPOILER:
The story appears to be about a team of people sent in to destroy an alien artifact that generates a mind control field. In the end of the story, it's revealed that the "team" is one person with split personalities.


And there was a John Varley story about a man whose memory disappeared every night when he slept. I believe it was called "Another Perfect Day".
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Old 09-10-2005, 08:55 AM
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Not SF, but Chief, the narrator from One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest was schizophrenic.
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