Today continues the April A-Z Challenge. This month, I'll be blogging (almost) daily about a different speculative fiction trope, one for each letter of the alphabet. Today's entry is on duality in speculative fiction, Yin Versus Yang.
In fact, duality is so ingrained in our culture, especially from a moral standpoint, that we might not even notice its prevalence in the stories we enjoy. We are so used to reading tales of good versus evil, right versus wrong, the forces of light battling the agents of darkness, that it has become the expectation for many genres. Indeed, the deviations from this formula often stand out more than those works that make the effort to conform.
So where does all of this dual thinking come from? Perhaps, the easiest answer to the question (though not necessarily the best) can be gleamed from the black and white morality of religion. A great many of the various religious beliefs over the eons have a dualistic center, going all the way back to the ancient Egyptians, with the contrasting qualities of the gods Set and Osiris, brothers who ultimately come into conflict. Modern religion is also filled to the brim with duality. The most obvious example in Western culture is probably Christianity, in which God is eternally opposed by Satan.
Of course, this entry's title comes from Eastern philosophy, in which yin yang are actually not seen as opposing forces. They compliment each other, like the feminine and the masculine (another concept that likely lies at the heart of human dualism). Westerners sometimes perceive the yin yang as representing good and evil, but Asian philosophies like Taoism eschew this assumption. It's meant to represent balance, not conflict.
And I would be utterly remiss in mentioning Batman without pointing out Two-Face, a character so forged of dualism that he allows a coin flip to dictate his morality.
Because of its ingrained place in our culture, dualism is one of those things that can sneak into your work without you even realizing it, as it's probably done for a lot of my own work. I've also had a couple of stories with intentional themes of duality, including one I've just laid the groundwork for. It's a fantasy story about two neighboring city-states walled apart from each other with divergent cultures. Their religious beliefs are diametrically opposed, and the story involves a man who finds himself caught between the two. The story's just a small nugget right now, but I'm planning on diving into it soon after the A to Z challenge comes to a close. In the meantime, I'll keep feeding my fascination with the concept.
Maybe the root of our predilection towards dual rationale lies at the heart of human experience. After all, so much of life is about reconciling our internal wants and needs with exterior circumstance. The fact that we can weigh the two is one of the things that separates us from the primal. But each of us interfaces with society in the same way: external stimuli, external being the key word. Until the singularity comes and we all upload our consciousnesses onto a server in orbit, we are creatures of duality.
It's you versus the rest of the world.
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
The Dark Tower series by Stephen King
Corum series by Michael Moorcock
The Longest Journey
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic