When I was little — not last week, oh foolish one, but probably about 4 years old, so somewhat littler than now, I remember clearly meeting a giant. He was my cousin David, and while adults like my parents were huge, he was clearly not human, but one of the giant people, left over from the first days, from the times when giants were fairly commonplace, rather like Toyota Priuses, doing important things for the earth, like moving vast rocks and building causeways, which afterwards you might wonder just why they bothered. They were still quite abundant in Africa when I was young, before they fell to quarrelling and destroyed themselves. You’d hear them in the storms throwing furniture around, and their distant booming voices as they called each other rude names.
Anyway, when this real giant wandered into my orbit, and he was real to a little, awed boy, a BFG type giant, he had a profound effect on what I did, believed and even read. I informed all my dear families that thenceforward I only read informative (yes, that word) books. I didn’t read ‘story’ books. Sniff. Those were for little kids, not those of us who took advice from giants. My dear family, not being as wise as the Elephant’s Child’s family, did not spank me for my ‘satiable curiosity and temerity, but gave me all sorts of books about everything from rockets to rust. And thus I was shaped, probably by a throw-away comment. But to me it was giant-advice, to be followed with scrupulous care (and lasted for about 3 years). In the fashion of giants he must have found something else that needed doing and wondered off with his vast strides across the impossible leagues to go and do it. If he’d told me it was to hold back the tide, I would have believed him.
I didn’t see my cousin for, oh, another fifteen years or so. And strangely in the meantime someone had fed him a humanising potion. I was most disappointed to find he’d entirely given up on uprooting trees or dropping multi-ton boulders when wandering across the countryside. Yes, he was about 6’4’’, and quite wide, and still the gentle sort of bloke who probably could do you a damage if he’d been that way inclined, but wasn’t. And um, far from being God-like in his wisdom, battling a bit to make a living, and mystified that he’d caused a young mind to be fed on non-fiction, because he wasn’t much of a reader at all.
That’s the effect of time on the giants of yesterday… they may shrink, but what they did just back then in their casual strength doesn’t. The Jesuits are right – give them to me young and they’re probably mine forever. I’m still, fifty years on affected by that casual brush with that particular one. As a writer, and as a human, it colored me forever. Many of my early brushes with giants in the world of Science Fiction (to which I had a preference, probably due to my cousin’s early intervention.) shaped my reading and for life, and certainly my writing.
And this worries me, I’m heading toward the age where being a grandfather is no longer terra incognito. And I look around and see, to my delight, that there may (by the time those grandkids come along) be giants walking in sf again. (I honestly can’t think of any sf writers first published in the last 20 years who ranked anywhere near the giants like Heinlein, Asimov, Simak, de Camp, Anderson let alone the slightly smaller (to me, to me) Laumer, Lieber, Lienster EFR and Schmitz (what was it about ‘l’?) and a long list. Off-hand only Pratchett (yes, he wrote good sf) Cherryh, and Alan Dean Foster ended up being ‘recommended’ and passed out to my boys of recent crew. But after that, only Baen’s books, and that with a heavy slant to military side, are something you’d want those kids and grandkids to be influenced by. Yes, well, when we consider that ideological preference rather than story got to take over publishing, and PC became all important, and science definitely become less so, it’s not surprising, although the consequences have to be devastating to the readership (and thus writers) coming through (as amply displayed both by sales and what the ‘leading’ Trad houses are publishing from authors who grew to maturity fed on their pap. But now we have Indies starting to come through, and there will be giants again. Yes some of those young indies will have been reared on the PC crunge of the last couple of decades, but I believe that their market is quite limited…
But that is only part of the story. The truly worrying part is is YA and MG fantasy and sf area. Because that remains a command economy, where e-books are still not the major sellers and… the gatekeepers are 1) Traditional publishing (haven’t they done well in the last few years with giving everyone exactly what they might enjoy reading… NOT) 2) The library system. I used to adore librarians – they were people who could spend their whole lives in with all those books. It’s become obvious that it works well… sometimes and with some libraries. But it’s also caught PC disease. 3) The public education system. It is very hard to be polite about the US public education system. It seems to my jaundiced and outsider’s eye (and I say this as the son of teacher, from back when it wasn’t so) to have become very feminised, and the standards required to qualify as a teacher are lower than for other professions. (Back where I grew up, you had to get a conventional B.A., B.Sc. or B.Com to then take teachers training. It kept the standards up.) This is the road to perdition, and these are not the people who ought to be choosing books. 4) And finally, of course, parents (and grandparents) buy those books for their kids. It was interesting to note among my peers the number doing YA/MG… and the number of these saying that their publisher was pushing their book toward the library/education tack, rather than the retail one. It’s not hard to guess which sort of authors they are. Amanda’s post referenced some of the delights they think would be good.
But they’re still the ‘giants’ your child/ grandchild will be influenced by. You’d better actually get off your dead ass and read some of the offering. At which point, when you finish throwing up or are now helped to understand the correct view of the world, and like the kid who never heard of half this stuff are now wondering if you have same problem, or you should try whatever, (yes, the 1 or 0.1 or 15% might just adhere to these norms, and appreciate that the rest of the school knows how they feel. And do you know how many medical students – let alone kids – mysteriously come down with what they’re studying? How many psycho students suddenly exhibit the very trait… how many people suddenly start seeing UFO’s with grey men just after the movie…), you may want to start thinking about why the left-wing publishing establishment that obsesses about power and influence (‘it’s for their own good’) is so casual about the loss to Indies. Partly it’s because they still are secure in their self-esteem, but also, it is because they see this as a battle – and even if they lose a few adults, as they cut supply chain, they win the war.
We need to fight this. We need to fight now and we need fight it hard, in the system, and out of it, and if need be, dirty. Unless of course you LOVE the public schooling system, adore the social and political indoctrination that has infiltrated it and are delighted to consign you kids/ grandkids, and future to it.
We need new giants for small folk. And we need them REALLY big.
Anyway, Names. Commendations. New authors from the last 20 years only please. (and please spare me derivative fanfic. I’d rather give the kids real Heinlein than Heinlein knockoffs.)