A rich ol’ man and she won’t have to worry…

By Dave Freer

Well now, they say love is a gibbon thing, but love of books, ah, now that’s different.  I do however want ask just what it is about books we love? The content, the paper, the cover, the bookiness?

I’ve come back from Continuum with two second-hand books that I am absolutely certain never find a publisher if they were written today. Not even Baen, I suspect, and they’ve braved some of the self-censorship in publishing. One was a Jack Vance, part of the Planet of Adventure series, and might have got in with Baen.  But Adam Reith was a white Anglo-Saxon Hetro male and he was better at stuff than all these aliens and some of the societies were obvious parodies of ones we are not allowed to take the mickey out of anymore. And the women in them were pretty and wishy-washy, mostly. Generally weak and needing male guidance and support. Women who find a wealthy/powerful man and are a sort of animated (barely) sex toy in exchange for their keep.  Not my taste in females (In my opinion inflatable dolls are cheaper and more satisfying than these), but they exist too.  They’re not even rare. I meet them often enough, and some of them are very young (so it is not generational)… but you are not  allowed to admit they exist.   Now here is one of those trick questions: they’re in numeric terms at least as common, or more so, as gay female humans (there are male equivalents, but one can write about these, so long as you’re nasty). Surely, as little as we may like them, they’re real, and human too? Women who get boob jobs for no other reason than to find that rich old man? Beautiful women who find someone with jowls, bad breath, a paunch and the charm and social manner of… a billionaire (ie. none at all) terribly attractive.  And the simple truth is that while some of them ARE faking it, not all are. The attraction of power and prestige IS genetic good sense. It’s in – at least some – of the genome of the human race to be this kind person.  Now, society at present mores says it is brutal and outright evil to discriminate on the basis of  someone’s genetic heritage.  We can’t be nasty (or leave out of books) people who self-mutilate or are ‘native’ (ie. their ancestors left Africa a little earlier than later colonists). My gay friends tell me ‘ it’s genetic’ (why should I care, I want to ask. I like them (or dislike them) because of their personality, not sexual orientation).  So… why no modern books about (and maybe even for) ‘weak’ women who want to be kept? Or men who do the same, and are actually mostly harmless fashion accessories and walking dildoes who can also carry parcels?  After all, if it helps those who self-mutilate or have anorexia or are gay to know they’re not alone, surely it is going to help the power-attracted? And it is not up to us to judge them, is it?

My personal objection to writing them is that they’re pretty boring, but then so are a bunch of other -ists, and authors write about and publish those.  Ah well. A book putting their perspective WOULD be daring, revolutionary, different. 

Or is there a line, and where do we draw it?

The other book – Zenna Henderson’s Pilgrimage – was a childhood favorite. I was amused by the Wikipedia entry – ” Henderson was one of the first female Science fiction authors, and never used a male pen name. Although her work could not be considered feminist, Henderson was one of the few writers in the 1950s and 1960s writing science fiction from a female perspective”  The modern feminists would crucify her today. Yet she broke ground far more effectively than say Tiptree, with getting male editors and readers to accept that they loved the stories and that that had nothing to do with her sex. She was good at writing.

Henderson was a schoolteacher and grew up and lived in Arizona.  That is part of her writing – rural communities with both the narrowness and yet generosity and affection of such communities. She was born into the LDS, and Christianity or at least a recognisable faith in a Judeo-Christian God is common in her stories.  They’re stories which explore a shared humanity (with aliens ;-)) and ‘conservative’ rural communities. And it’s fairly plain she views these things as natural and good.  There are at least as many readers who share her viewpoints as there are say girls who self mutilate or are gay. Her writing is tolerant, generous… but unlike anything in the current mainstream fictional portayal of Christianity (or country folk). Yet I know a lot of people very like her characters. They’re real, read books… and would love to know they weren’t alone.  Surely writing that too would be ‘daring’ and fair?  (yes. I wrote Howard, the first ‘hero’ who was both male and overtly Christian in the last 20 years.  But I slipped him under the radar, I hope. And there was so much satire and skewering of PC holy cow in that that it probably was un-noticed.)

I enjoyed both books – I don’t like Vance’s heroines much, but the story is fun, and Henderson can become a little cloying, but I am glad they did get published. I wonder what other jewels our self-censoring publishers ate in the last few centuries?  Anyway, with luck we’ll be seeing the internet allow far more access by readers in future.

So what ‘taboo’ areas which we aren’t allowed to write about can you think of?

12 comments

  1. My personal objection to writing them is that they’re pretty boring, but then so are a bunch of other -ists, and authors write about and publish those. Ah well. A book putting their perspective WOULD be daring, revolutionary, different.

    Or is there a line, and where do we draw it?

    I’d say the line is between encouraging people to be good and competent, and encouraging them to be evil and/or incompetent. Trophy wife types are typically incompetent, and therefore should be discouraged or cast as “bad guys” (or the toys thereof).

    For the same reason, you wouldn’t write a story about a thief or a murderer, unless there were sufficiently good reasons that make the thief/murderer not a criminal (say, being hungry or killing the king who ordered a genocidal war). Thieves and murderers exist, but we don’t want to encourage people to join their ranks.

    1. Ori, I’d disagree with that almost 100%. There is no line between any kind of people. The only line of any kind is between “a good story” and “boring”.

      Think about it – violent video games have not caused a massive surge in violence: actual real-life violent crimes have decreased in the same time period (I’m not claiming causation, merely noting the correlation). Fiction about thieves and murderers – even when they’re the heroes – can be rollicking good fun, as well as a way to safely release some of the energy that builds up when you suppress your darker side (as most of us have to).

      So… if someone can write a good story from a trophy wife’s POV and she likes being a trophy wife, more power to them. The day we start on the “no, you can’t write this” is the day we start dictating what people can think.

    2. Ori, this actually flies right to the heart of my argument. Ergo: Who made you the judge of my mores? I don’t glorify things I don’t personally approve of. I have a very rigid personal code of ethics, BUT whether the reader/s wants to read that or accept what I say is up to the reader. I can say “I hated it, I did not approve of the image of thieves or murderers.” But not ‘you shouldn’t be allowed to read it because I -the self elected master of morality- say it might affect your judgement.’ The utter arrogance and intolerance and inequality of that surpasses all understanding. Yet we see it all the time, whether as ‘racefail’ or genderfail or whatever other excercise in censorship and intolerance.

      As a secondary issue: The point with many of these things is they are MORES, moving with the current Zeigeist., not inflexible morals. Mores are often hard to justify viewed in a wider context. I am personally violently opposed to slavery. Yet men who were the moral champions of their time… often held slaves. At the moment it is accpetable to diss housewives staying home and raising kids. Fifty years ago it was not. At the moment it is not acceptable to mock homosexuals. Fifty years ago it was. Seventy years ago it was just fine to pillory Jews. Then it wasn’t. Now it seems fashionable again. This is why I try not to run on mores, but on principals – which means I judge an individual and their actions, not their orientation, religion, or skin color. That’s a harder row to hoe. I do not ask it of others. That’s just my way. You can judge it however you like :-).

      1. Stands up and cheers.

        You know, I dind’t get to this until today, but I woke up knowing what I wanted to write about tomorrow, which is “enjoying fiction whose political, moral and economic undepinnings are not only factually wrong but morally repugnant to me.” — I was thinking of Simak’s treatment of a decrease in population on Earth which is wrong, wrong, wrong, miles and miles of wrongitude, and yet I love City. There are others. There will be a post. The point is, good fiction is good fiction even if the point annoys me. For too long the publishers have made themselves the arbiters of what will be heard and what is “right” — and the fact that I disagree with most of them is NOT the only reason they annoy me.

        I’m actually wondering what the effect of being able to self-publish will be on this sort of thing. Because, look here, most of the cogniscenti disapprove of Agatha Christie’s characters and yet a good number of them are true to life, including the clinging woman married to the millionaire, and her male counterpart, too. Again, I disagree with a lot of Christie’s opinions, but she had an artist’s eye, she told a thumping good story, and most of them wouldn’t be published today because they’re “politically incorrect.” I wonder how long that will last.

        One of the stories we can’t tell today is well… Okay, I stumbled across this 1920s YA book, whose setting interested me. It is about the friendship of two young men between say 14 and 21, as they leave home and start off in the world. The one writing is clearly the follower and idolizes the other. The book was a bestseller in the 20s. Nowadays it’s impossible to read it without thinking “they’re gay. They have to be gay.” In the 20s, I’m SURE no such thought attached for the readers, and certainly not for the writer. That type of unabashed, innocent male idol-worship is something we can no longer write. Not only wouldn’t it be published. No one would BELIEVE it. Perhaps no one can “feel” it. I suspect we’re poorer for it, since it’s an ancient form of male growing-up association.

      2. I can say “I hated it, I did not approve of the image of thieves or murderers.” But not ‘you shouldn’t be allowed to read it because I -the self elected master of morality- say it might affect your judgement.’

        I’m not advocating censorship. You have the right to write whatever you like, and read whatever you like(1). But encouraging certain attitudes is immoral, and some people do tend to be affected by their entertainment. At least, I know that I am and that my kids are.

        Therefore, I consider entertainment that glorifies actions that I consider immoral as immoral itself. You have a perfect right to write a book that glorifies apartheid or the nanny state, but I am unlikely to finish reading it.

        (1) With the caveat that it has to be something that was written at a previous point in time. Violating the laws of physics is wrong 😉 .

  2. And yet SF/F is full of thieves and assassins. And vampires. As the protagonists.

    Who we can’t write? Or, more to the point who is no longer allowed to be a Good Guy? As you say white male christian. Subserviant women (unless they daydream of stabbing their husbands, who are the bad guys.) Women who want lots of children? Women who would not consider an abortion, no matter what. Women who abuse children? (some things are, fortunately, too basic to be so badly twisted. So far.)

    Is anyone off limits as Bad Guys? But then, bad boys are sexy, so that’s okay, so long as your white male Christian antagonist isn’t too attractive. He should be fat, poorly dressed and sweat a lot.

    1. Think about it Pam. When last did you see a gay villian? Since 9/11 really nasty can be Arab (with a few publishers) but other ethnicities are off list. Female villians? That’s a hard job description too. Probably need to tick a lot of anti-PC boxes to get one of those ;-/ Social engineering is, de facto, something authors (and alas, publishers) try. A few of them are good at it. But most don’t realise that credibility and acceptance of a valid world picture are necessary for this to work. So a modern South Africa where the only murderers are fat middle-aged white guys who sweat a lot may work fine if published in the US (because ignorance is a fine distortion). But in SA the reality is that the fat middle-aged white guy is the victim 60% (and they only make up about 2% of the population) and most of the population – including the fat white guys- know it doesn’t ring true.

  3. I think where you say ” I don’t like Vance’s heroines much, but the story is fun” is really the point with story selection by publishers. I don’t doubt if Jack was writing the same story today, the femmes would be less vapid cutouts of humanity, but the fun would remain.

    On the question on getting more people into books readers can identify, John Birmingham found in his “After America” series that the character most people wanted to talk to him about was the Senator’s Wife. She was alone amongst the female(and amongst most of the men), in being just a normal, everyday, average person, and was thus the character peoe could most easily identify with.

  4. Sarah said: “1920s YA book, whose setting interested me. It is about the friendship of two young men between say 14 and 21, as they leave home and start off in the world. The one writing is clearly the follower and idolizes the other. The book was a bestseller in the 20s. Nowadays it’s impossible to read it without thinking “they’re gay. They have to be gay.” In the 20s, I’m SURE no such thought attached for the readers, and certainly not for the writer. That type of unabashed, innocent male idol-worship is something we can no longer write. Not only wouldn’t it be published. No one would BELIEVE it. Perhaps no one can “feel” it. I suspect we’re poorer for it, since it’s an ancient form of male growing-up association.”

    You know… I remember feeling this way about my 9 year older brother. And as a 23 year old getting the same response from a 13 year old cousin. He was a nice kid and in desperate need of older male role models since his father had become an alcoholic, and had been a louse before that anyway. It certainly was of no sexual interest to me either way. I like (without having any sexual interest) quite a lot of people! Including some youngsters, who seem to like me. My son – bless him for his courage- teaches Sunday school. The kids – particularly the little boys, adore him. He likes them. I’m as sure as any man can be that there is nothing sexual about this, but it is a scary road fraught with suspicions for any man to travel. And yes. I learned a lot from my brother, and we’re still friends (not just brothers) today. And I’ve had the same from kids to who I was ‘mentor’. It IS important to social development (especially for boys i think, but maybe for girls too. Never had much to do with them).

    1. Well, I was that way with quite a lot of my brother’s friends, and it absolutely wasn’t sexual. And I know this has been going on forever. HOWEVER reading it felt “wrong” and like the author must mean something dirty. And I don’t think it was only my reaction. I’m fairly sure most people today would react that way. Which is probably a mark of what we’ve lost.

      1. I think you can still write these sorts of relationships, but because of the awareness of homosexuality, you have to go out of your way to have both characters openly lust after any pretty young woman who crosses their path.

        Just saw the movie “Super Eight.” A batch of “not old enough to drive” boys making an amateur zombie movie. The main character was obviously godsmacked by the only girl around, but still the two main guys in the movie had a bit of a jealous spat in the middle of it, over the girl. It wasn’t really obvious, but the “no gays here” signals were all present.

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