I’m quite stupid sometimes, so maybe there is a big something here I am just not seeing, something that is as obvious as can be to everyone who doesn’t have to take their shoes and trousers off to count to twenty one. (It’s my tail I’m talking about. You just connected the wrong dots.) You know what I mean: there is a pattern of dots… and as dots they don’t make much of a picture, except perhaps of a Dalmatian. But what humans (and surely particularly science fiction writers) do, is to join the dots of known things and say: “look, I see a fresh paw-print (dot a). It is large and cat-like (dot b). I see no other paw prints. (dot c) I do see some scratches in the bark of the tree. (dot d)… The picture I am getting is that there is leopard in the tree above me, and they like to eat monkeys and humans are a kind of monkey. The rest of the picture I get in my head is me taking rapid evasive action, and keeping my spear point straight up.” Or alternatively to say: “oh look at the cute paw-print. Let me kneel down and take some photographs… and the rest of the picture involves some bloody splatters.
Extrapolation is what stopped something digestive having taken humankind to extinction long ago and far away. Writing a story – unless you are doing it very badly, involves setting up circumstances which could logically be extrapolated to what happens next. If you’re really really good, the reader scratches their head and says ‘It’s so obvious, why didn’t I see it coming?” If you’re merely good the reader takes that as a natural possible progression of events and thinks no more of it (which, trust me, is an achievement of no small order). If you’re rotten useless, the reader thinks… oh drivel, loses their suspension of disbelief and does not continue to read, often with a book flung at the wall, and that author off the buy list. To take this a bit further: If you’re a good pantser you are literally putting your characters in a scenario, and working out what they would be most likely to do, based on their characters and the circumstance. Literally joining the existing dots to make the picture, generating more dots as you go. If like me, you’re a plotter… (And especially if you’re a good plotter, possibly not like me) you know what you want the picture to be, and manipulate the positions of the dots (the circumstances and the nature of the character) so the outcome is believable and plausible… and achieves your picture. Well, mostly. Sometimes the dots cannot be shifted enough to get to your planned outcome, and you have to settle for where they take you.
It ought to make you quite observant of dots, even ones which seem to have nothing to do with each other and very good at interpreting how they can fit together to give likely, or at least plausible outcomes. Of course some authors just get very good at providing dots for drawing leaves, and don’t even see the forest, but people like the leaves and buy those. Fantasy, to my mind has a lot of good leaf artists. Hard sf… should be more forest… (But that’s just how I extrapolate the dots of data).
So let me talk about some of the dots I see in the writing and wider world… and I’d ask you to tell me if you get the same possible pictures as I do, and if not – what have I missed?
Recently we’ve had a huge fuss about sexual harassment at sf/fantasy conferences. (Translated, complaints about men, white, heterosexual, doing/saying (or even looking or just being present) an unwelcome something (defined as anything unwelcome to the complainant) to women at Science Fiction/ fantasy conferences. (dot A)
Dot B Many well-meaning (as well as some opportunistic camp followers) have demanded something be done. They are female, have female friends, daughters and the future to think of. Typical among these is the white male heterosexual (you know, people from the group who are being complained about and labeled as a group of identical perps.) who say in tones of horror they have young daughters they want to be able to safely go to sf/fantasy cons without having to complain of being harassed. Part of this assuredly genuine care for their children, and part of it is wanting to state, very clearly, that they do not support the harrassers.
Dot C Involves a great deal of reaction, mostly aimed at looking after complainants, and making the making of complaints easier with less possibility of the accuser ever having to specify what was done, or take any consequence for doing so. The group of identical perps is guilty unless they can prove otherwise, and there are considerable barriers put up to their possibly being exonerated. Trial by internet is fashionable and acceptable.
And that seems to be where most folk stop joining dots. They like the picture they’ve drawn.
But there are a lot more dots… some of which are part of the picture. It’s a very big picture. The end one I am seeing is not good for daughters (or grand-daughters) the society we’ll leave them, or even sf.
Dot D – there is a clear correlation between reading and education, especially tertiary education. It’s hard to tell which is causative, but they go hand-in-hand. Tertiary education proportions have become substantively skewed to females (7:3 in some colleges), particularly in the arts, where the ratio is even worse. It must make things very… interesting, in terms of dot G.
Dot E – there is a negative correlation between educational achievement and sexual violence.
Dot F – thanks to testosterone men are bigger, stronger, and more prone to physical violence, and have a higher sex-drive. (Ergo, if you have to choose who in a society gets to reading, being educated, that’s worth thinking about.)
Dot G – Evolution has seen to the fact that most humans are heterosexual. Girls are interested, by-in-large, in boys, and vice versa. Only a small percentage aren’t. Take the opposite sex out of a meeting/conference/whatever, and the opportunity for courtship and possibly sex away, and it will lose much of its attraction for those not already in a relationship.
Dot H – despite the silly-stunts played with census/survey/stats abused for their own ends, if you’re looking for Hetero English speaking males there is about an 85% chance they’ll be white. Even if you take the ‘English speaking’ requirement out, they will be at 70% +. If you want sf/fantasy reading, tertiary educated (or able to be) first language English ones with a similar cultural background to the average white girl… guess what they’re most likely to be? Yep, your standard-model villain. (And given dot D and G, you’ll be lucky if there is one for every 2.5 women at the same or better social/financial/educational level.). Of course if you allow for generations of breeding, those numbers might be different, but it is hard to see how they could be better in terms of dot J
Dot i — Humans push the limits, and are bad at judging precisely where those limits are, without some clues – whether we’re talking about attempts at courtship behavior, or just how many apples/candies you can eat before the boss thinks you’re taking advantage of the system… most of us need those pointers. Remove any policing or obvious border, and people will increasingly push at it, whether you’re talking about taking undersize fish or reporting harassment. Inevitably this has very predictable results, both as to where it goes to (too far), and what happens then (all of the perk/limit/trust is removed). No obvious borders or penalties on harassment and it will go too far. No obvious borders or penalties on claiming harassment and that too will go too far.
Dot J – Evolution has put strong pressure on women to ‘trade up’ – or at least get the best in their mate choice. Think of it in practical terms – big/strong/powerful/wealthy/clever offered the best survival potential for women (because of dot F) and their offspring.
Dot K (which links very neatly to dot D) Male writers (an indicator of readers- the proportion of writers will always be representative of readers, unless for some reason writers of that group are excluded.) and readers are a rapidly declining species.
Hmm. The picture I’m starting to form is one in which horror of the daughters and certainly the granddaughters complaining of sexual harassment at sf cons… is a worry of which my picture relieves their minds. Given C, D,I,G &K, there won’t be any sf-fantasy cons, or if there are they’ll be smaller than cow-poo modelling societies are today, and having gone through a phase of being only visited by men with a partner and permanent camcorder attached. The predatory lesbians (yes, they exist too) will find them disappointing hunting grounds, because dot G will remain. So will the daughters of sf writers looking for a potential mate of similar interest and background. If there are any boys there, who fit dot J, the complaints about sexual harassment, in a ratio of 1 male: many females, will be rare, and suicide for her chances (not a good situation, surely not one any feminist and/or doting parent wants their daughter to be in). Most of these beloved daughters and grand-daughters can, as a result of D &K, be expected as a result of Dot G, to lose out on Dot J, and have to settle for men of lesser education and a higher propensity for sexual violence who don’t read (dot D, E and F). How this is a win for feminism is something of a puzzle for me. Perhaps they join the dots to have man-less households That’s worked really well with the statistical outcomes for children from them, as well as being almost effortless, juggling children and a job. The daydream that the father will pay (if he has a job, if, as less-educated than his child’s mother he can earn as much as she could) hasn’t come out too well so far. Still, maybe there is a dot I haven’t seen. A rich state going to provide welfare payments… oh, wait. Anyone still falling for that daydream needs to do some serious economics dot-joining.
That’s the rather grim picture I see. What have I missed?
I love my genre. I like writing it. I have some hopes that dot sequence I can see coming out of Indie will lead to the Dot D (education and reading) and Dot K being positively affected. I do want to see my grand-daughters (none yet, but I hope, and will love them) able to find partners of the same or better reading status at least. That’s the picture I want. Now as a plotter… how do I best move those variables around do get a different outcome? It’s not social engineering (that is what is being done), it’s playing strategy with a long term view. I can see some places we can add dots and shift them around a little bit.
And yes, I do the same thing with the future of publishing, the future of the human race… and with my book plots. Maybe you think they’re just as crazy.
The stats for this month for A MANKIND WITCH
and THE FORLORN
are AMW 62 (105 last month) and Forlorn 12 (5 last month)