A Worm Through the Mind

“You are a worm through time. The thunder song distort you. Happiness comes. White pearls, but yellow and red in the eye…”

As the hiss burrow through and infect the very walls of the Federal Bureau of Control in the videogame Control, they chant a very curious incantation. The words go on and on, seemingly never ending. It’s decidedly unsettling. Between the brutalist walls and the floating corpses, the one voice alive is unhuman.

One of the outstanding features of weird fiction, is that it is often insufficient for a world to be just weird, it too must feel weird. Jeff VanderMeer, foremost practitioner of this subgenre, added a similar incantation to his novel Annihilation. As our protagonist descends the claustrophobic tower buried deep in the ground, words formed of leaves and vines emerge from the walls.

“Where lies the strangling fruit that came forth from the hand of the sinner I shall bring forth the seeds of the dead to share with the worms that gather in the darkness….”

The words run on. A single sentence with no end. Like the incantation in Control, it unsettles. It hypnotizes. They have their own particular rhythms – a vertigo-inducing continuity in Annihilation’s, a stop-and-start chant in Control’s.

They have their own symbols, both with a multitude that disorients and confuses. To the writer, they likely have some significant meaning, but to the reader/player it becomes a whole – a gestalt that conveys a singular feeling. You are hypnotized into a trance, so that this feeling can burrow into you, so that you will never feel comfortable in the skin of this world.

This can be only achieved with a masterful control of prose, both as it is read and as it is spoken (and heard). It is not only an understanding of structure, of the length of sentences and the arrangement of noun, verb, and adjective. It requires an understanding of particular symbols, not in isolation, but in relation and in juxtaposition and the moods and images they evoke.

It requires an understanding of the nature of the medium itself. Control and Annihilation understand that a particular artistic medium is not merely a means of delivery. The medium is perception. The medium is mood. The medium is the delivery vehicle, but the vehicle can be oh so beautiful.