Space Pioneer

by Dave Freer

Space Pioneer… No, actually I am not referring to Mack Reynolds 1965 novel – although it might be fun to garner the modern left wing response to a novel about colonization… before explaining that it was written a lifelong member of the America Socialist Labor Party, the son of its Vice Presidential Candidate.  It’s also curious that he was published by any number of editors (including John W Campbell) of a very different political stripe, right through the McCarthy era.  At that time Science Fiction was still an avant-garde genre, which challenged the rules. It’s became a very different place after that, sadly. Now you get called ‘daring’ for parroting a party line plus the obligatory weird fetish-associated gratuitous sex, and ‘unpublished’ for anything else. The world changes, and only sometimes for the better.

No, what I was referring to was an area of genre that has gone largely into PC-dictated decline, that of novels about exploration, settlement, colonization, pioneering new worlds. Once this was one the mainstays of sf.  Now it seems Dystopia, or  novels about long-existing settlements (at the ‘we will barely tolerate this, as long as you mention how evil the founding fathers were -do not mention ‘mothers’, because they were good and pure and persecuted ‘ level) have become de rigeur.

Yes, it does irritate me.

You see: for science fiction, it always struck me as the history of the twentieth century ‘but don’t mention the war’. There are, obviously, some speculative fiction areas that don’t take us into new worlds and new territory. Time travel… (except as in L Sprague de Camp’s LEST DARKNESS FALL, or Eric Flint’s 1632) that don’t involve building a new world. Or dystopia, where a la Atwood some authors get the opportunity to tell us what scum humans (as in men) are. But, well, I have found my desire to read this sort of thing is… rather tepid. Perhaps I need re-education. As I briefly talked about my writing blog Coal-fished Cuttlefish dystopias, in which at best the protagonists survive are still very fashionable in YA (Hunger Games for example). Some of these are very readable.  Sometimes that survival makes a good story. Survival and combat are, after all, basic human instincts. Books that satisfy these instincts will have appeal.

But there is another instinct we’ve been told is ‘bad’ – which is odd, as every single living thing does it. We’re all colonists in one sense or another. We all alter our environment – even if only by breathing. The inner-city soy-latte sipping arts graduate in her boots made of the carefully tanned hide of  genuine vegans, and designer label jeans (from Vietnam) and natural cotton blouse (from India), as much the anaerobic bacteria making its energy from sulphur compounds three miles down in the ocean next to a black smoker (No, I played no part in drowning them, I mean an undersea volcanic vent. And really, the bacteria are not in the least fussed by color.). What’s more we’re all descendants of colonists – as is every plant or animal. But, as Douglas Adams said, humans are not proud of their ancestors and never invite them around to dinner. The environment of Australia was altered about 40 000 years ago when the first humans arrived… and that wasn’t the first time radical alteration happened either. I believe the Stromatolites from 3.45 billion years back are still considering demanding affirmative action, and are only held in check by the proto-atmosphere claims, demanding less free oxygen.

The guilt-exploitation games played by the prophets modern PC are largely to blame for this fashion, which, as a biologist and something of a traditionalist and guy who tries to live off the land with as little impact as possible, I find funny. Hey, it’s laugh or cry. They’re doing a remarkably good imitation of the British shipwrecked sailors on South African coast who died of starvation in the midst of plenty, heatstroke because woolen clothes couldn’t be taken off (indecent!), and thirst on the dunes where the water is maybe two feet down.  It’s a story of both good AND bad.  It is part of ALL of us, and learning to live within it has been something every settler–from Australian aboriginal to the tribes who expanded across Europe after the Ice Age–had to do or go extinct. If you didn’t learn, you died, as on Easter Island, or here on my home on Flinders Island, which was last inhabited more than three thousand years ago, before the new settlers.  And we’re — slowly it is true — learning not to destroy the treasure of new environments before we even know what they are. I kind of used this as a major philosophical thrust in DRAGON’S RING, where human destructive and creative nature is part of the story.  It can be that, too.

So how does this tie into what this blog is about: writing? Well, simply that it occurs to me that the areas that enjoy great popularity are, well, the deep philosophical bits… death and sex (well, they can be!) because they’re basic things that all humans (and everything else, but they don’t buy many books) are interested in (Look at vampire… OK, bad example, look at non-sparkly vampire books).  Of course, we’re a social animal, so we find social interactions and relationships fascinating (look at sparkly vampire books). Which is why those sort of elements make books work. But we’re also a tool-using animal that pushes into new environments and explores and alters them. It fascinates and pleases us at a primal level, rather like a campfire does.  Some of us (like me) are a little more primitive than others, but no humans are that far from it. (Maybe three meals?) In genetic and evolutionary terms it’s an eye blink, and we haven’t been through the enormous drift or pinch-points needed to change that. (I had one of very PC award-winning darlings of the literary world kindly explaining to me once that we had culture so we didn’t behave like animals, and social patterns and reproductive strategies had nothing to do with them any more. Uhuh. Really? Fascinating! I was very good. I didn’t tell her just how dim she was. It was exceptionally hard.)

Which is why I really think there is a niche for humanity-against-the-environment books. Yeah I know. Big bad humans beat up the environment and nature is all fluffy and cuddly — which is something you can delude yourself of in the inner city and while pulling on those vegan leather boots, going down in the elevator to your hybrid car and off to the supermarket to buy some cellophane wrapped Tofu. But that, seriously, can’t describe the arrogant ignorance of the entire market-place?  Tell me, please, that it’s not true? That there are people still who realize their great-grandad (or pick an ancestor) was tough, lucky and someone to be respected? That getting off a ship in a country you knew nothing of and carving out a life for yourself was not senseless wanton destruction, but courage and pluck? That there are some people who still realize polar bears aren’t cuddly. That a night in the untamed veldt would frighten most people sleepless – even with a rifle and fire. Sleepless or having something digestive happen to you. Tell me please that you still want to read about solving problems with your wits and few resources. Tell me that you want to read about building up again after disaster and dystopia. About new worlds and new problems. About making soil. About out-thinking the worst that the author can think of throwing at the poor fellow…

And I’ll tell you I want to write for you.

Oh BTW, I’m running a project on davefreer.com called The Changlinomicon — which is a serial story told from the point of view of a Goblin and a Human teenager, surviving each others’ world. Basically I’ll write the next episode a)when I get enough votes b)or when I feel like being snarky. Kate, this one is your thing.

*as in even the new species still had ancestors, and you can bet some of them arrived with carpetbags.

32 comments

      1. Oddly enough the book I had picked up to read is James Hogan’s _Migrations_ the night before this.

        The magical divination of the market by the bean counters who tell the editors what to buy will out.

        That said a short or two that you could point to on Amazon or one of the major short story circuits might grab some attention.

  1. I loved all the pioneering, lost, castaways and whatever type stories when I was younger. I. . . can’t think of one offhand, that I’ve read recently. I hadn’t even realized they’d disappeared. It seems like it’s all background information, now, with a “better” story going on above it. Not that I mind a murder mystery on Mars, but the _pure_ adventure stories were good too.

    As Amanda said, Toni showed the cover for Dog and Dragon at FenCon. _Excellent_ cover.

    1. Well, I am reassured to hear its a good cover. Yes, no one made a fuss about the disappearing stories… it just happened insidiously. I suspect not so much by cunning forward plan as NY zeitgeist. Well, I still love them.

  2. Dave, first of all, you owe me a new keyboard. The image of carefully tanned vegans being made into a boots sent coffee spewing all over keyboard and monitor. It isn’t that I mind ruining a keyboard for such a delightfully wicked image, it’s just that I mind wasting good coffee on the first morning after a con. ‘-}

    I guess I’m one of the unwashed because I’d love to ask my ancestors to dinner, even if parts of them might fall off during the meal because embalming methods back then were, well, non-existent. But I’d love to hear what it was like to be born on the Trail of Tears or to step off the boat from Ireland and to start making a new life “out west”. I’d love to know why my great-great of many greats chose to fight against the British and what initially brought his family to the colonies from England. I want to sit down with my great-great grandfathers and find out what it was like to fight at Bull Run (yes, plural. Both great greats on my mother’s side fought for the Union at Bull Run in different regiments from different states. Both were injured on the same day, in the same leg. Both survived and made it home to become successful family men and business men). I’m proud of my ancestors, male and female, and being a nosy cuss — aren’t all writers? — I’d like to know what their lives were really like.

    I’m also the sort who loves the colonization of space stories where we aren’t the evil bad guys just for being human. Despite what the PC crowd said, being human isn’t something that makes us inherently bad or dangerous or anything else except, well, human. I don’t necessarily need a “happily ever after”, but I do want a tale where I care about the characters and can escape with them for a few hours into worlds I’ve never been.

    1. (innocently) But Amanda, I see adverts for vegan leather boots. How else could they be made? And I’m sure every one of the vegans used died in their sleep, of old age. And they must have very thick skins.

      Some of my ancestors were rogues, and some weren’t. On average, though, most of them were — judged by the standards of their time — tough, courageous folk, and again, by the standards of their time, more forward looking and thinking than today’s average. Um. Some were trouble. But they were not ‘evil’.

  3. I stopped reading the colonization stories when they were all doing the “and then they all died” endings back in the sixties. Or the “and then they all went insane” no explanation, of course. I’d love to see good ones again

    1. Well, colonization is dangerous and some people do die and others get hurt and some go insane.

      But they’re not the ones I generally like to read about. I much prefer reading about people _winning_ over terrible odds.

      Good example is Legacy of Heorot by Niven Pournelle and Barnes. Colony caught flatfooted by a truly awesome and unexpected threat in the form of a really badass predator. Fights hard and fights smart and, in the end, wins by being bigger badasses than the predator.

      Go humans! 😉

      1. You rebel, you. “Go Humans” is the MOST controversial thing you can say today.

        How screwed up does a species have to get before a substantial minority (I HOPE) hates itself? I don’t know. Come on, Darwinian selection. DO your thing already!

  4. I love a good colonization story. I’m personally a big fan of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Martian Trilogy. It’s realistic without being dystopic. There are some problems to overcome, but eventually things work out.

    I can’t stand the pessimistic bent of a lot of modern day SF. Pessimism is what killed Star Trek. It’s not a changing attitude among consumers, it’s the crappy outlook fostered by the series. I really hope that this changes sometime soon.

    1. Me too. I remember a Murray Leinster series of Novelletes – the planet Explorers. Which was all about coping/fixing strange colonial environment problems.

  5. More Changelingomicon, please. I may have broken something trying not to laugh out loud at work.

    And why on earth would anyone want Vegan boots? Honestly, they’re wet to start with, and as soon as they come into contact with any non-cute animal matter they go all out of shape and start absorbing… stuff.

  6. “Next year better, next year stronger.
    Next year’s furrows that much longer …”
    Possibly my single favorite passage Heinlein ever wrote.
    Yes, Dave. A thousand times yes. I want to walk the Glory Road, I want to sleep inside a giant Martian cabbage to keep from freezing. I even want to shoulder a rifle and slog through mud alongside Christian Johnnie and his mercs. There are *reasons* why Star Trek fizzled but Star Wars made more money than anyone in HollyWeaird had ever dreamed, and most of those reasons are spelled “h-o-p-e”.

    1. Yeah. I just don’t get the negativity thing. Yes, I get depressed. But I DON’T read about it. Does anyone choose to? They must, I suppose. Someone buys them. Not me.

      You know, I think my favorite Heinlein characters are ones that I suspect no one remembers – the Schultz family in ‘Farmer in the Sky’. Make a plan. Make it work. And when you get knocked down, survive by burning your apple tree, to plant again.

      1. I take a small dose, a very small dose, of stories about depressed characters as an “I am not alone” reminder but that’s about it. I much prefer “okay, things are bad, but we can get through it (whether we do or not is open to question, but we can)” stories.

    2. Stephen,

      Once I dreamed of being the geologist on exploration teams on Mars. Sadly, that one’s gone to “not in my lifetime”, but I can still write about hope.

      Star Wars – the original incarnation at any rate – spoke to the dreams of just about everyone. It’s all about good vs evil and the many ways good can triumph. When you’re living in a world where evil seems to have the upper hand if there’s any point at all, something like Star Wars, or Harry Potter (for the same reasons), is going to resonate.

  7. Hi doc,

    A good space pioneer story will also annoy those on the far right more than a bit. After all migrants are usually poor people in search of a better life in a place where they’ll have some rights, and where their hard work will actually earn them something. They’re not the far right’s favorite kind of people. :0)

    So, such a story will annoy the lunatics on both sides. Which is a really good thing. *Grin*

    Regards,
    Rui Jorge

    1. Hmm. Probably true, at least some of the time. Part of that is racial discrimination, part of it that some migrants are gaming the system (and this has always been true, everywhere, but when they move from lousy social security to good benefits, you have to consider that) and part of that fear (where the migrants work harder and ‘take jobs’). Black Zimbabweans for example are utterly detested in South Africa by black South Africans, for example. They’re better educated, and mostly speak good English, work harder in general and are desperate to escape Zimbabwe – this despite the fact they’re persecuted in SA by the authorities.

      1. Dave, Rui,

        I’d put it down to power, not politics. Left or right, the power-hungry don’t like anyone getting outside their assigned places. A big part of any entrenched power system is the “this is how it’s supposed to be” factor and the “this is how it’s always been” (probably a mingling of both in South Africa, given that the fall of the apartheid regime is still in living memory for a large portion of the population). Colonists and migrants who don’t subscribe to those threaten the power of the established interests. Even – or possibly especially – the established interests whose base is a designated “victim” group.

  8. Books like Tunnel in the Sky (Heinlein), Legacy of Heorot (Pournelle et al), “The Tale of the Adopted Daughter” from Time Enough for Love (Heinlein again), and so on.

    Want more.

    It’s what you’re writing? Titles please. 😉

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