Mara

“We don’t need no education,
We don’t need no thought control…
Pink Floyd

Which of course is, strictly speaking, a contradiction in terms. Firstly they definitely need some education, at least in grammar, and secondly while ‘education’ has been a major vehicle for brainwashing, education in the sense of acquiring the ability read, work numbers and do this whole logic thing are the ultimate enemy of mind control. Thus totalitarians detest and attempt to control it, to the extent of destroying it if possible. It’s been a central pillar of every Marxist and, yes, every Islamic fundamentalist regime in Africa, and in various other charming locales, to make sure that education is done away with, because intelligent folk with access to an education are less pliable than ignorant mobs, and mind control gets much simpler.

There is such a thing as learning by rote, and there also such a beast as learning to think, and reason and to question.

Most of us end up somewhere in the middle, because there are a fair number of generations of selection for survival of not-stupid-sheep in the human genome, which we haven’t quite managed to dilute out of the gene-pool by trying to do away with capital punishment for teh stoopid wot don’t need no education. We learn somewhat by rote, and that is point at which we are weak, and can set up for control.

Of course this is where books come in, and particularly books for younger readers. I’ve just – for my sins – battered my way through Limbo Lodge (Alternate title to Dangerous Games (US title)), by Joan Aiken. This is one of those books that ought to be a fundamental part of every study of literature, and certainly every course on how to be writer. It should arrive as “read this book” before you can enroll. If you can: you should never be a writer, because the lack of elementary story telling skills in it should have had you TBAR the book by page 5. If you enjoyed the book, please go to the Guardian offices and receive your pin on PC medal with brain-dead-bar. I am sure that traditional establishment publishing will love you too.

Needless to say I come under ‘you should never be a writer’, although in my defense I kept going out of a horrified fascination, like looking at a train-wreck in slow motion. I have read other books by the author which were quite entertaining, and I kept thinking that had to re-assert. After a while it became a sort of goad to get me back to work: otherwise you will have to read another five pages, you lazy scut. As I can normally read something of that size and language complexity in a pleasant half an hour and it has taken me two weeks, you start realizing the depth of my masochism.

Besides the fact that it embraces the noble savage myth – you know, the brown curly haired forest people persecuted by the wicked white settlers on their paradise-like island. The primitives are naturally happy, good, kind, generous, pacifists who eat mostly raw fruit and the occasional fish, ruled by wise women who the repositories of ancient magical wisdom, and in perfect harmony with their environment, and who desire none of the materialistic trappings of the evil capitalistic culture of the bad invaders (who needless to say, are puritanical white men, who love to drink and gamble, and persecute their women and make them live in a kind of purdah) the sins against geography, zoology, geology and physics are… egregious to put it mildly. Okay, so it is alternate history with elements of ‘magic realism’ (ie. Where you have to be stoned to think the magic could be real – certainly not ‘realistic’) or possibly fantasy at the kind of horse-is-an-automobile level with a faint touch of this-is-so-ridiculous-parody of gothic adventure (Launching a ship (yes, ship) from a cliff-top by waiting for the regular earthquakes which precede the tsunami which happens on predictable schedule, because of regular-as-clockwork volcano. The cliff collapses and the ship (yes, ship) then surfs the wave… Oh and the ship (yes, ship) is carried to the launch spot by the two superhumanly strong women, who despite having this hideous strength and all sorts of other powers have made regular horse’s butt out of solving what would be trivial for one super-woman, let alone two of them, and very wise and magical too).

“But Dave-Monkey, you say: that’s what fiction is about. Look at Pellucidar or even The Hollow Earth. They use breaches of geology, or science to make for great fantasy stories. Kenneth Oppel’s Airborne makes use of the ‘Hydrium’ (a sort of hydrogen/helium lifting gas) for the airships and takes some liberties with zoology… You enjoyed all of those.”

Indeed. But what good fiction is about is the creation of not just of an illusion, but of an entire ocean of illusion. Disbelief is not merely suspended, it is drowned and killed. The difference… is what separates TBAR from a great book. And that as far as I can see comes down to 1) Internal consistency. A book needs its own consistent internal logic, and its own set of rules. If a woman can lift a wooden ‘ship’ big enough to have a cabin for 6 – and food etc. (on land) you do have to explain why she didn’t just toss the chief bad guy a hundred yards into the harbor. 2) the careful immersion of the reader in that sea, by not overdoing the use impossiblium too early and being VERY sparing in the use of coincidence. If the internal logic is there, there is very little need to invoke this (the book I was just whinging about had a piece of pure chance intervening at the right moment… about every five pages. Key to immersion is careful foreshadowing. So if a character is going to turn out to be a female in disguise, pre-discovery needs a few cues. If a story is going to need a hair rope, then the fishing culture that uses these must be established as existing (and using them) before suddenly leaping onto the page when it is needed. 3) Key to the foreshadowing and immersion is that the writer has a far far broader picture of a WORKING world / universe complete with consistent internal logic (I recall reading a fantasy novel where the women knights – all in high castles, lived in happy peaceful co-existence with their fellow lady knights in other castles – until invaded by the bad men, at which point they were suddenly brilliant warriors defending their castles. Aside from the obvious women are just less physically strong than men, the author just hadn’t thought through any of the social, political or environmental issues of her world. Why were there castles and knights if they all lived in perfect peace in the first place? Why did the animals all have made up names, except for horses, and the crops all imaginary… except for oats.)

So: your turn. Who really immersed you? Which authors did a great job of that feel of a far wider world (or universe)? What educated you?

58 comments

  1. The lyric is actually:
    “We don’t need no thought control”

    Which more greatly implies an Orwellian situation.
    But, point taken.

  2. I don’t know about education, but re-reading H. Beam Piper recently, I am reminded how real Pappy Jack and the Fuzzy family became to me from the first time I read them.

  3. As for your last example, obviously the reason there were both oats and women in that world is because the evil men had come through before, sowing their wild oats.

    By the way what does TBAR stand for?

  4. TBAR equals “Throw Book Across Room”.

    The problem is that with ebooks that means a broken e-reader. [Sad Smile]

    1. Yep, that is a problem, hitting a delete button is nowhere as satisfying as throwing, or dropping the book in a recycle bin and slamming the lid after it. Maybe somebody ought to design a delete where you can throw something away from the computer or reading device as a way to activate the function, after you have clicked on what you want to delete the normal way.

      The first alien planet adventures I read were ERB’s Mars books, and I remember getting immersed in them very thoroughly, there is not that much description in the books (well, he does wax a bit poetic when Dejah Thoris first walks into the picture) but I could _see_ those dead sea bottoms covered in ochre moss, and the ruined cities where the green men lived as well as the beautiful living ones of the red men. And Barsoom always felt like a whole planet, a place where you might discover anything, not something you knew thoroughly once you had seen one dead city. Admittedly I don’t know how much of that effect was just inexperience as a reader, that was my first exposure to science fiction (or science fantasy) and I was only about 12, give or take a few months. It was easier, I think, to get past the prose to the experience when I had read less, especially before I had started to try writing myself. Now I can get stuck in the details more than I remember doing then.

      And of course Heinlein was a master.

      One Finnish writer who could immerse the reader very well was Yrjö Kokko, but I’m not quite sure if anything of his is available as English translations. I do think at least his best known work, the fairy tale ‘Pessi and Illusia’ has been translated some decades ago, but I suppose it’s probably not easily found now.

      1. I have to second Pohjalainen’s comments about the Barsoom books. I read them and I could /see/ everything Burroughs was describing.

        Another example for me would be the best of Robert E. Howard’s fiction. His worlds may be nearly all blood and thunder, but he shows you all of it and you remember what you saw.

        1. Thanks. Good to know. I love some of his other books more but since I’m fairly sure they have never gotten translations that’s the only possibility if I want to introduce something of his to people who don’t speak Finnish.

    2. That’s one of the main reasons that I don’t want an e-reader–books are much sturdier. And I don’t like electronics anyway.

      Isn’t there a ‘delete button’ on e-readers? If I could afford one, I’d install one that had the sound effect of a toilet flushing for books I don’t want to keep reading. I would rarely use it; even a ‘bad’ book has something to teach me, even if it is something about myself and my predilections. I will also keep reading to figure out what NOT to do in my own writings. Some of my best ideas have been rewrites of a book that I had problems reading for one reason or another.

      Happy Reading All,
      SheBear

    3. Perhaps there’s a market for device I want ed to make for TV for e-readers — I wanted a remote shaped like a handgun, with a signal generator on the TV, which generated the image of a shattered screen, before switching off harmlessly.

  5. f a woman can lift a wooden ‘ship’ big enough to have a cabin for 6 – and food etc. (on land) you do have to explain why she didn’t just toss the chief bad guy a hundred yards into the harbor.

    Was there any reason given in-story? Or did the author just assume “bad men push women around” without stopping to think about the reasons why this is even possible in reality, and that a woman who could lift an actual ship (a vehicle weighing at least 50 or so tons, and probably much more, even if we’re talking about the Age of Sail) could slap your head right off its neck like a giraffe kicking a lion? (I suspect the latter, as radical feminists tend to ignore systematic reasons for sexism).

    Why were there castles and knights if they all lived in perfect peace in the first place?

    Part of this I think is a lack of appreciation on the part of people who’ve never studied the economics or technology of an era for the cost of things or the heights of technology. When many people hear “knights and castles” they think “low tech things that belong together under “medieval.” They don’t realize that (1) given medieval subsistence economics, it is very expensive to take someone out of productive labor, equip them with metal weapons, armor and a warhorse and train them to use these implements effectively, and (2) given medieval technology, it is also very expensive to erect a huge fortified stone structure (and none too cheap to build even the wooden predecessor of same, plus the ignorant aren’t even aware that the early castles were wooden).

    In other words, a medieval-tech society which has knights and castles has made a serious investment in warfighting. Knights and castles are not the medieval equivalent of automobiles and houses; they are the medieval equivalent of main battle tanks and missile defense systems. Their purpose is to kill and to avoid being killed, respectively.

    What’s more, they take specialized training to operate. A knight must spend much of his (on the average shorter) life learning to ride and use his weapons; a castle requires numerous artisans (carpenters, masons etc.) to properly maintain. So a pacifist or even notably peaceful medieval-tech society wouldn’t even have knights and castles, and if it did they would be poorly-trained knights and tumbledown castles.

    Ignorant writers don’t understand this because they are looking at knights and castles as being cute or quaint. They are not seeing them in the context of their own times.

    1. I once build a rock circle – rocks just big enough that I could lift them – in Lapland. I had walked several kilometers in order to check out some rock outcroppings, and once I had done that I had nothing else job related I could do, and was in no hurry to get back to our base camp as there was nothing interesting I could do there either. So I ate and started hauling those rocks, out of a whim. Took me several hours and it was a small rock circle. I’d rather not try even a small stone wall without plenty of workers and/or hell of a lot of time after that. A whole castle… yep, you’d need a reason. A very, very good reason, something much more important than just the desire to have a nifty place to live in.

      Fun to think what some future archeologist may make of that circle if somebody some day finds it, though.

      1. One caveat here – speaking as someone who grows most of their own food, and does a lot of physical work, and has done a lot of construction. It’s both harder AND less hard than it appears to a modern city human. There is a degree of skill which comes with doing something often, especially from childhood, which does change some equations (I’ve watched a dry-stone walling guy, who had been doing it for 30 years or so, and was amazed at how easy and relatively fast he made it seem – I’ve tried it. A similar thing with handling fish – I got to gilling and gutting a trout in 20 seconds – the old hands did it around 4. And I’ve seen a first attempt take five minutes.) And because making things was hard, one made things to last.

        1. And some never learn. I fished for several years, and gutted and cleaned what I caught. It always took me at least a couple of minutes. I do have some coordination issues, seems there are some things I just can’t do well no matter how much I practice.

          On the other hand I learned to draw well early. Maybe it’s handedness, I’m definitely left-handed when it comes to handling a pen, right-handed with some other things, like scissors, and then there are some things with which I never figured out which hand would be better and I am equally bad with both.

          1. Hah! I thought *I* was the only one who couldn’t figure out which handed he was until the instructors *made* me use my right for darned near everything. To this day I still throw and catch, brush my teeth, and a bunch of other stuff lefty.

            1. I’m a left-righty. My hand for strength – opening jars, pulling spiny lobster out of their holes, using a fishing rod and reel, is left. But I -and my son – simply used to change hands to finish drawing across a big piece of paper. I was taught to be right handed to write, but can still do so with my left to a legible extent.

              1. I’ve always been right handed, but a job back, I learned to handle a cordless drill and screwdriver equally well with either hand, and this has served me well in the current occupation.

          2. I think it may be a question of volume (and fish size and similarity). Remember I am speaking of 4 of us processing a ton- ton and a half of near uniform 250-300 gram fish. 2-3 times a week – and for the people I was working with, for many years. It’s just not the same as cleaning say 4 fish every now and again. The difference between occasional recreational and something you do every day all day is huge.

            1. Mine was just a few fish per week. I worked for the Finnish Geological Survey six summers (and one summer for the Ontario Geological Survey) three months per summer and mostly in places where we could visit the store about twice a month, so if we wanted some variety to the dry goods and canned stuff we fished, and gathered berries and mushrooms when they could be found. Pikes were usually easiest to catch, so I ate a lot of them. But I was always the slowest, some of the guys who worked with me were pretty fast and made it look easy, I tended to cut my fingers unless I did it slowly and carefully, and never managed to improve.

            2. This is very true. When I was training people in brazing, dull repetitive piece work, the rule of thumb was after your first thousand, you get a rhythm (thousand pieces takes about a week or two). Friend of mine worked in tool casting/forging. Swore he could see a .001” defect, and proved that he could, after seven years on the job. Human beings (and other complex apes) are amazing creatures.

      2. FWIW I helped drag a 4 ton tree trunk about a mile on Sunday. (Those of you on Fb can see pictures of it here – https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10201897221899837.1073741830.1462471937&type=3)

        This was a reenactment of how they think Japanese of 1000-2000 years ago built their version of Izumo Taisha on a platform on top of very large tree trunks. It wasn’t exactly a Stonehenge level of pulling – trees float and as part of the reenactment they floated the trees down the river over the summer so all we had to do was simulate the drag to the shrine.

        I now have a good deal of understanding of the effort required and the way you do this sort of thing: long ropes and 100+ people pulling are key but it also requires overseers to make sure everyone is pulling in sync, people steering, people putting down a corduroy of something (bamboo is good and reuseable) to drag the load over and so on. In a medieval/iron age society this is not something you do casually on a whim one Sunday afternoon with a bunch of your mates. But on the other hand it also isn’t gothic cathedral/roman amphitheatre level of effort either – this is something that can be done in a few years (less than a decade) by perhaps 1000 or so people mostly part time with a dozen or so full timers.

    2. No, no reasons FOR the strength or the lack of use of it. Just a case of oh we had superwoman along, and her big sister BUT THEY DID NOTHING most of the time. Yes, that was precisely what I was getting at: authors who just have never done physical construction (or grown their own food, or defended themselves) – even with modern tools and methods, and have never actually thought past the window-dressing of ‘it looks purty’. The trouble with this level of ignorance is that it is contagious :-(.

  6. Poul Anderson. When he described a planet, you could envision it as a real place, with as much diversity of environments and cultures as the Earth. Ditto for Jack Vance.

    1. What I liked about Vance was the feeling that you wee looking through a very small window (the story) onto a scene where the author COULD see so much more.

  7. Andre Norton. J. R. R. Tolkien. Robert A. Heinlein. And I’m sure there are others that are not popping up.

  8. The conflation of education (or “education”- corrected thinking) and actual intelligence has probably been around since Hugin and Munin, or longer. *chuckle* Of the two I prefer Hugin, as any idiot can remember a sound bite… or memorize a simple mantra (“women and men are perfectly equal in every way” etc). *grin*

    Other than a few ancient Greeks and Romans that didn’t write any science fiction that I know of, I like how David Drake can create both realistic far-future cultures (based on the past and present, of course) and a believable life in microcosm. Characters seem to have their own wills and take the reader to often unexpected places.

    C.J. Cherryh was the first one to make aliens truly alien for me. I think it’s quite a trick to make the unexplained flow with the rest of the story. Nobody does gonzo action quite like Larry Correia- I think that type of book is rather underrepresented in that there’s quite a lot of bad but very few good. And the good ones go so fast, like popcorn they’re there and gone and you’re left waiting for the next one. *chuckle*

    Poul Anderson and Jack Vance I picked up later in life. While still very good, they still don’t have that extra bit for me to put them over the top.

    A lot (well, 4 out of the 6 new ones I just picked up) of recent sci-fi and especially of the PC crowd, but not limited to them, seems to suffer from short-term thinking. This absolutely mystifies me. Why would you chose to write science fiction if you don’t want to think long term? Space fleets without infrastructure, *tiny* closed ecosystems that need no maintenance (and no plausible explanation why), etc… Almost as good as superhumanly strong ladies that must cower before the evul white dudes. *shakes head*

    1. What did you think of Larry Niven’s aliens? (as someone with a Zoological background, I liked Cherryh BUT did recognize the earthly models for her Chanur for example.

      1. The hani, yes- those were the familiar that started the setting. The T’ca and the Knnn were just… wonderfully bizarre to someone so new to science fiction. I was the kid in class that just *had* to pester the teacher with questions like “is methane respiration scientifically plausible?” *grin*

        Niven’s Kzinti and the species of the Known Space series of books are part of what I’ve not (re) read in a long time. All I can recall of them offhand was wanting to dig those books up when I was taking my (required) cultural anthropology course, because I could swear I knew that culture from somewhere…

        They are probably still buried in my moving boxes at the moment. Have to write myself a note to put them atop the TBR pile so I can hopefully remember what I was thinking about those years agone… Or just to enjoy the re-reading of them. *grin*

      2. I read Niven so long ago, I only remember the puppeteer. It was cool and strange.

        But, Dave, since you recognize Cherryh’s terrestrial models, what the heck is it for the big aliens in the Foreigner series? They have a flocking instinct. They have something called man’chi (sp?). They don’t have friends. You have to be in line with their leader to get their “affection.” Do you think they’re based on migrating birds? Mean geese?

        I love Cherryh’s throwaway observation in one of the Foreigner books, about a play or movie someone saw with shifting man’chi causing all sorts of drama. It really highlighted how much more complicated these aliens were as people. Just like humans who can betray someone they love or owe a debt to, this man’chi can shift and all expectations get thrown out the window.

  9. Just add in a ‘me too’ here for Poul Anderson and Jack Vance. I know them both mainly through their fantasy (though I love Anderson’s ‘Future History’ with van Rijn and Flandry), but wow could they make their worlds come alive. The Horseclans books by Adams had some amazing work in them as well even if I winced when he went on a tear in mid-story.

      1. No, I’ll have to see about getting it through interlibrary loan.

        And I forgot mentioning this writer before: Manly Wade Wellman’s stories of John the Balladeer did an amazing job of ‘creating’ a fantasy world set completely within American folklore and history. So much so that it’s hard to understand why no one else ever seems to have followed in his footsteps and used more American myth and folklore in their own writing.

  10. Ann McCaffrey; Andre Norton, at least in the first few WitchWorld books; Pournell and Sterling (the Falkenberg novels), Drake’s Hammers Slammers (have not read enough Bolo yet) and Raj Whitehall stories; M.Z. Bradley’s Darkover books (again, the first seven or eight. I’ve not read the entire series). They all have internal consistency, and the reader gets enough information and background to allow you to fill in the rest.

    1. I think you may have in passing hit on what is wrong with the book I’ve just read. The author was very prolific, there are a lot in that series, this i think was near last, and toward the end of her life. For me it says ‘leave while it’s still evergreen’, but publishers see it differently.

  11. ERB’s Barsoom (what pohjalainen said, down to them being the first science fiction I read), MZB’s Darkover, CJ Cherry’s many, many worlds, Heinlein (but of course), and Dunnett (for historical fiction). I re-read Ender’s Game a few years ago, and, although there’s is very little description, I still felt I could see Ender’s environment.

    I see all those places and cultures in my mind’s eye. I know they exist somewhere. It’s interesting to see the similarities in authors we all read.

    1. Yes – I wonder if we’re typical or just a self-selected group, but the authors enjoyed (although they cover a spectrum) tend to a high level of commonality in how they write, as well as who they are.

    2. ERB’s Barsoom (also the first SF I read, at about the same age as pohjalainen) Anne McCaffrey, particularly her Pern novels, I don’t see it so much in Heinlein but see it strongly in almost all authors who claim to be influenced or inspired by him. Drake to an extent, but not as much, surprisingly no one has mentioned Weber for a contemporary author, although he does go into a little more description than others mentioned he draws a very clear world view in his writing.

      You do a good job yourself of drawing a clear ‘window-view’ of a world with the impression there is much more to see, but the reader sees all he needs, Dave, particularly in The Forlorn.

  12. It’s kind of an odd thing to say about Discworld, but honestly, Pratchett does such a good job laying out a world where normal people *could* live that even the most ridiculous magic or preposterous fantastical element don’t draw me out of the world. I really can imagine living in the city of Ankh Mopork, or in the forests of Uberwald, or in the swamps of Genua, or on the grassy Chalk. Maybe it’s just because Pratchett has never seemed interested in telling the stories of knights and nobles, but rather the stories of more ordinary, more recognizable people.

    1. Huh. Nothing odd at all to say about it! Discworld is a very well-constructed, detailed and good fantasy world. Moreover, the strength (which is probably another point worth mentioning in the drowning of disbelief) of Pratchett is the reality of his characters. They’re ‘real’ and we care, so the environment, no matter how fantastical is just fine.

  13. Joan Aiken for one. As a child, I more or less figured that what her evil adults did to children was more or less what a child should be prepared to expect from any adult whose actions they didn’t know well enough to indicate otherwise.

    Her bad guys in many case felt real and relevant. While they had fantastic elements, they didn’t softpedal the risks adults could pose to children, and a factory or a mine was much less disturbing or offensive to me than depictions of child molestation would have been to me at that age.

    Women are automatically safe is a crock, and policemen are automatically safe is a crock. There are no shortcuts, only observation and precautions. Strategy and countermeasures.

    The capability of the child heroes I liked, and I counted myself as abnormally incapable anyway, so I didn’t challenge it on those grounds.

    If that is the Dido book overseas either after or very late before her return to England, I was very displeased with that also.

    I read it anyway, so maybe that means that I will never write creative fiction worth anything. 🙂 Such is life.

    Really, the one I remember was almost as distasteful to me as, whatsit, Cockatrice Boys(?). I think I just decided that it was another for the adult market, and not for me.

  14. Joan Aiken for one. As a child, I more or less figured that what her evil adults did to children was more or less what a child should be prepared to expect from any adult whose actions they didn’t know well enough to indicate otherwise.

    Her bad guys in many case felt real and relevant. While they had fantastic elements, they didn’t softpedal the risks adults could pose to children, and a factory or a mine was much less disturbing or offensive to me than depictions of child molestation would have been to me at that age.

    Women are automatically safe is a crock, and policemen are automatically safe is a crock. There are no shortcuts, only observation and precautions. Strategy and countermeasures.

    The capability of the child heroes I liked, and I counted myself as abnormally incapable anyway, so I didn’t challenge it on those grounds.

    If that is the Dido book overseas either after or very late before her return to England, I was very displeased with that also.

    I read it anyway, so maybe that means that I will never write creative fiction worth anything. 🙂 Such is life.

    Really, the one I remember was almost as distasteful to me as, whatsit, Cockatrice Boys(?). I think I just decided that it was another for the adult market, and not for me.

    Boogered the user name posting this the first time, so reposting, so it shows up before everyone wanders off and the first one gets out of moderation.

    1. Yes, as I said I liked her earlier books — which is why this one was on my to read list, and why I think I was so shocked by it. Her first books make scant use of co-incidence, and are well constructed, with reasonable foreshadowing. This was the late late Dido. The point is to read AS A WRITER, or just to read, are two different animals. This makes for problems because we’re really writing for ‘just to read’ but we, (and our editors) are reading even our own work as writers. As a writer I’ve gone back to books I really enjoyed as a ‘pre-writer’ – and in some I have been stunned by the skill and craftsmanship I just didn’t see (they were good, and made it look easy. I know now it isn’t) and some were flawed – but I didn’t see the flaws – which may mean they’re only there to writers.

      1. I was less shocked, because when I was even younger, I’d found one of her adult books, bought it, read it, and decided I’d hated it. IIRC, I was old enough when I’d read this one that I noticed some flaws in how it worked, but I certainly don’t think I’d gone to the trouble of figuring out all the things you mention.

        I liked some of the Is books she had out between, IIRC, cockatrice boys and that late, probably last, Dido.

        I’ve had some books I liked when I was younger turn out much better and more interesting now that I can see stuff like ‘You made the Roman Centurion abnormally lacking in viciousness so that he would be more sympathetic to a modern audience.’

        After reading Kratman, I started to find that some depictions of military activities in fiction, that would have been fine before, just plain failed to hold me.

        Maybe I should work more on creative writing. If I finish learning the basics of that, maybe I’ll know if my experiences are a similar phenomena or not. 🙂

        1. “After reading Kratman, I started to find that some depictions of military activities in fiction, that would have been fine before, just plain failed to hold me. ”

          Yep, Louis L’amour ruined all other westerns for me, just the same way, after reading him everyone else seemed either ridiculous or just flat.

          1. I have trouble taking Gundam entirely seriously on the military and political levels. (Much less engineering. Bearing strength and ground pressure, and all those other things I WSoD so that I can enjoy mecha.) But it has nice explosions, and that is often enough to immerse me in the manner Dave describes.

  15. Robert E. Howard, ERB and RAH for sure as a sproutling, Andrea Norton and Glen Cook as I’ve aged. I do like Mr. Cook’s Black Company novels, but his earlier Dread Empire series definitely sucked me in with how vibrant and fleshed out the world/politics/mechanics felt.

    1. That feeling of ‘fleshed out’ is a big one. A skill, I believe at least partly fake 🙂 (This is NOT an insult. It’s a huge compliment to the skill of a writer who can do it.) There is no doubt that the writer has much bigger picture, done a lot of thinking and research. One of the things that I’ve picked up is that these authors slide hints of that wider world in, throughout. You never see the entire world, and -as a writer unless like JRR you obsess about it for your entire life – they can’t have either. But it feels like it.

      1. Great bloody gods, yes. Even when the author cheats, and we know he’s cheating by stealing from this past or that well known world, when it’s done well it’s magic. I’ve seen it done *badly* a time or two, amazingly well, oh, several times by the many excellent authors mentioned here.

        When I re-read Glen Cook, its always delightful to see how he does that with so little. It’s the details, built slowly and one upon the other that create that history and setting you can almost reach out and touch. Stephen Erickson’s first one in the Malazan series evoked some of that effect. Even though it was scattered and I knew he had a humongous pile of source material in the form of the campaign setting he’d created back in the 80s, it still gave the impression of depth that few manage to pull of well.

  16. There were a couple of lines in Bujold’s Vorkosigan books (and of course her whole universe seems all-there) that were like reading a moment of, oh, hyper-expansion. The first was in Mountains of Mourning and I can’t remember it enough to paraphrase it, but the story itself is very focused on the local and then Miles or Aral says something about infanticide shaming the Emperor (I *think* it was personalized, but it may have been empire or Barayarr) before the galaxy. So just for that moment there was this rubber-band thing that encompassed a galaxy worth of interacting human interests and reputations and then *snap*, back to the immediate problem.

    I had the same reaction to a line in The Vor Game when either Miles or Gregor says to Cavillo (?)… “Did you think we were amateurs?” Of course the world up til then was whole and rational, but that moment encompassed the gestalt of culture and personal history as well. It was a gestalt of culture and personal history that Cavillo wasn’t aware of… much to her detriment.

    Of course everything Bujold does holds together.

    1. One would love to know how much of that is just that she is instinctively a great story teller, and how much is a learned skill, just so we could know if all the work learning is worthwhile.

      1. I used to think that she couldn’t possibly be doing it on purpose. Now I think that she probably is. And maybe it’s just that she seems to think about connections and how everything does work together. So Cordelia sneaks into town in a cabbage truck because Bujold thought… “So how do people in a war zone get fed anyway?” It seems like such a simple thing, but how often do whole literary wars happen without anyone needing to eat (other than arbitrary depictions of suffering and starvation, of course)?

        Another really good detail (and plot necessary, too) was Miles pointing out to General whatshisname at Camp Permafrost that all of the members of his firing squad were witnesses. Completely obvious, but how often are literary spear-carriers depicted as having agency? In most books the author and the readers would have been as oblivious as the General.

        1. One thing that is clear about LMB is that she takes her time to write/rewrite. She spends time thinking of the right word, alters her vocabulary and sentence structure depending on PoV etc. And yes, that certainly means she thinks about what people other than the main protagonist think/do/want etc. That attention to details I think is what allows her to widen and narrow focus (apparently) effortlessly, put little actions in context and so on.

          And despite her claims of “just in time” world building, she clearly has a broad background canvas that is partially sketched out before she starts any of her books. That is what allows her to be consistent in what her characters can do so that we readers do not need to recaibrate our WSOD midway through.

          While she certainly give me and millions of others pleasure as readers, I think she is perhaps even more worth studying if you are a writer

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