Scattered abroad, and dispersed among the people

I suppose I don’t really write books that are just one thing. Maybe this is my problem… well, besides being a silly monkey with a penchant for lost causes and taking on hell with a fire-bucket, and living so far beyond the black stump you have to crawl three more days after the last camel dies to get near to it. Society thinks it’s a good place for the likes of me, and for once I agree wholeheartedly with the dumb cow.

I don’t preach. Sermons masquerading as books pee me off and I’m damned if I’ll write one. Besides only the already converted faithful like them. A book MUST be a great story. I certainly don’t tell you what to think. BUT a great story can still have issues and conflicts that relate to other things outside and beyond just the book. One doesn’t always agree with these, but if it’s a good story, one puts up with them, maybe get interest by them, maybe disagree entirely. As a writer – a book like Rats Bats and Vats gave me a chance to explore a whole lot of ideas about military combat and the effect of equipment on the type of soldier required, about how language shapes what one CAN think of, as well as using a whole lot of different species to have a strong poke at Shavian Socialism (the Socio-politcial system of Harmony and Reason) about what our mores mean when through the eyes of a different species. About the complexity of being human. Lots of politics, philosophy, psychology. Turgid shit. Positively constipating to even think about…

-“the military SF plot is peppered with its share of Dirty Dozen-esque cliffhangers, the sharpest moments in this giddy entertainment are those where the rodents blithely skewer human mores (Publisher’s Weekly)

-“A brilliant action/adventure novel… This book is funny, funny, funny! If you appreciate the double entendre, Shakespearean backside humor, insane adventure or a touch of mystery/suspense, then you would be wise to pick this one up. (Brian Murphy,

Not quite as turgid as all that. In fact it might like fig preserve have on your insides a most distressing effect. For me too it was a book in which I got to write about being a conscript in a war where I can’t say I supported the people who sent me there, or had a lot of sympathy with the people who were happy to kill us, and hey, anyone who gave them any trouble. I’m a thinking man, and it’s been in my mind a long time grinding around, and a lot of other ideas. And of course to get my own back on the Bronte sisters… But it could still be done in a story, a fast-moving funny one.

(yes the picture is a link. Yes, I wasn’t crazy about the title. Or the cover.)

Your own experience does of course come into any book – and so does relating to it (which is why I find a book by an urban cubicle IT nerd written for urban cubicle IT nerds as thrilling as watching a 5 day cricket test match in slo-mo. Yet they are loved.) But there is more to it – there is also the experience of your whole culture. And given the fact that I found myself in the same boat as tens of millions of American (and Australian, New Zealander, Canadian, Chilean, or Venezuelan for that matter emigrants (or descendents of) — Hell, go back far enough, all of us — has influenced the last few books heavily. I find myself one of those ‘scattered abroad, dispersed among the nations’ ex-South Africans. I suppose I will always be a product of the people and place and culture that gave me shape and form. I am (almost) an Australian now, and loyal to the country that gave me and my family hope, home and refuge.

It is going to be interesting to see how this resonates with readers.
And so tell me- what of the underlying matter in books – and what books – resonated with you?

19 thoughts on “Scattered abroad, and dispersed among the people

  1. Two books by the same author changed my life, not by the story, but the concepts in them. Komarr, by Lois McMaster Bujold, presented me with the idea that there were marriages like mine in the universe… and A Civil Campaign gave me the thought that perhaps clinging to personal honor when it was killing me and damaging others was not the brightest choice. The idea of breaking, and resetting… It was a very timely one for me. But that’s not something an author could possibly anticipate, because it was time and place specific to an individual. Her characters simply behaved in ways dictated by the people she had developed them to be, and I read into it what I would.

  2. Rats, Bats and Vats works on so many levels, I am still awed every time I think about it.

    It was the funny action story that convinced my younger son that reading could actually be enjoyable. Trust me, as a product of the American school system, he’d learned that reading was a miserable trudge.

    It explored the way we treat soldiers. It made us laugh at the powerful elites who were so focused on their own immediate advantage that they were destroying their own future. (speaking about brutal relevancy! You got a crystal ball, Dave? You’ve even got the ‘believe the alien culture, despite evidence’ right.)

    You gave us loyalty, love, friendship and honor. You gave us dogged tenacity and doing what needed to be done. You made us cheer for the Good Guys, and laugh while we were doing it.

    The rest of your books, the humor is much less to the fore, but everything is there.

    1. I blush. Any more and I’ll need double doors to get my swelled head out of the rain. The humor in RBV is oddly based on a trip down a long, frequently land-mined road, in the second vehicle in the convoy with twenty other soldiers. We laughed so much my ribs hurt for about two days afterwards, and the wit was quick, clever, sharp and very pointed. We all knew that we might not laugh again, and that laughing was much better than the alternative.

      1. So, this explains why you haven’t visited recently?
        BTW, I always thought “Shavian socialist” meant that we got to decide the lengths of beards by government fiat. (RUNS.)

        1. It’s where they offer to let you share shaving the lion. Fiats are a kind of Italian car, not known for reliability (First in all trouble) and so the thought of a government fiat should make you very afraid.

          1. I grew up in Fiats. Very common in Portugal. Second only to Renault. I used to aspire to owning a Renault deux cheveaux. Or perhaps, cheveux, to get back to the beard theme.
            You know… it just now occurred to me that yesterday was Monday and you should have a post up. This shows you how attuned I am to the world and reality just now!

            1. Sniff. Living in the US with your present set of governance you should be aware that reality is for other (lesser) people, not Shavians. (I am a non-shave-dave – not ian)

  3. I disagree about the title Dave. And yes, I’m arguing with an author about the title of HIS book and should probably just deal… But dude, the book was all about Rats, Bats and Vats (Ok, ONE Vat) so it just works. I’ll agree with you on the cover though.

    The thing in one of your books that held out the most meaning for me, oddly enough, was probably the dog in Dog and Dragon. The loyalty of that little mutt was unreal. He was going to find his master if he died doing it. I had some things going on in my life when I read it (that I’m not going to get into) when I read that and I really _needed_ a reminder that there is such a thing as loyalty in the world. That’s one book I’ll never forget.

    1. Jim, loyalty is a two way street. If it’s only one way, it’s not loyalty, it’s devotion. That has its own place, but loyalty is worth more. Loyalty is solid and real enough, and not just among dogs (quite well documented there, and I know it first hand).
      The problem with the title is not the truth of it, it’s the selling quality thereof 😉

  4. “Your own experience does of course come into any book”

    I am a horribly disloyal person – in the privacy of my own head. In person, if you’re mine, you have my loyalty through hell and high water.

    I wonder if the two are connected, the ‘in the brain’ freedom allowing me to whine (no relationships are perfect), when I know perfectly well I’m going to behave in real life.

    Brought up with (and still subject to) the kind of Catholic guilt that is based on ‘God knows everything,’ and so He knows your thoughts, too, I was surprised when a Jewish friend (secular Jew, but brought up semi-religiously) told me the Jewish version required right action – but not right thought. What you actually do is all that’s judged. Huh.

    That’s what I like about writing: if something IS bothering you, you can have the fun of following conclusions of right actions and wrong thoughts into all the dark holes – without putting your family and friends at risk. You CAN explore, and see the consequences of putting into a character’s thoughts and behaviors things which you know to be too dangerous for you to try – to see if she will get away with them, and if you like the kind of person that makes her.

    Sort of a way of working things out.

    If in addition you tell a good story and people send you their dollars, so much the better.

    I think some writers have ALWAYS done this – and others are just entertaining you.

  5. One of the strongest drivers that I picked up from all the fantasy and mil-sci-fi I read was honor: loyalty to one’s people, keeping your word, doing what’s right even without witnesses.

      1. I think it resonated because it is a constant – it gives the reader a benchmark that “this” is acceptable and “this,” no matter how well intentioned in the character’s mind, is wrong because it is dishonorable. Honor speaks of something greater than the individual, be it a family, a military unit, or fraternal society, but also provides part of a foundation for the individual. At the time I really sank my teeth into SFF, I needed to know that honor still existed, even if only in fictional worlds. Something tells me that a lot of other people also resonate to that chord.

        1. That’s something that always appealed to me, as well. It’s funny how folks come to that- I found it first in classic fantasy with how surrender was honorably treated (“parole given” among other things), and went from there to mil-sf. A friend of mine got it through old Westerns- Louis L’amour books.

          I don’t know if its cultural or really a common thread in the human species, but fairness seems to be important to everyone. I’ve worked for guys who were right bastards, but folks stayed on because they were at least fair, and avoided places with nice enough guys who couldn’t treat their employees impartial. Honor’s a step further from that, I think- keeping your word, treating folks with dignity and respect, setting limits on things you just won’t do.

          Makes sense the way you put it.

  6. Dave, RBV is one of my favorite novels for a reason, and one of these days I should talk about it. (I haven’t yet done a post about my favorite funny novels yet, and yet I’m a humorous fantasist. Strange, that. Well, the century is young and I’ll get to it, possibly by the end of the year.) Let’s just say that both RBV and its sequel were among the funniest, wildest, most inspirational books I’ve read in the past fifteen years — and gave me hope that _someone_ was still reading funny books ’cause you were still writing it and doing a superlative job of it. (Not that these are your only funny books by a mile, but these are my favorites.)

    As for personal motivation, I think Lois McMaster Bujold’s BORDERS OF INFINITY was right up there. My body hasn’t worked right since my early twenties, so being able to empathize with a disabled narrator was really good. Bujold can write funny stuff into her books, too, and again, like your novels, I thought to myself, “Well, someone’s still doing it, so perhaps the death of the funny novel isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” even though her books are layered (as are yours, in different ways) and most of the time her touches of humor are not even discussed.

    And CORDELIA’S HONOR — whoa, was I blown away by that. Here Cordelia hadn’t found anyone who was up to her weight. Neither had Aral Vorkosigan. He’d been married once, it was a bad marriage, things did not work out, he did something vile and got away with it . . . and regretted it the rest of his days. So he’s really complex, she’s complex, too, they’re both bright as Hell and they both fall in love. It’s complex, too, just as the rest of it . . . the idea that two brilliant people from two different worlds could make a go of it was something I hadn’t previously considered, and yet without reading something like that I doubt I’d have recognized my late husband when he finally showed up.

    Finally, the third book in Elizabeth Moon’s DEED OF PAKSENARRION is one that continues to work for me on a deeply personal level — this being OATH OF GOLD, of course. Paks loses everything, starts off in deep despair, regains herself and her abilities, and comes away with more than she ever could’ve imagined. The fact that she doesn’t have a romance doesn’t matter; she is herself, she is complete in herself, and she’s happy with that.

    Those were the books that really have done it for me over the years.

    There is a new set of books, though, at least new to me, that also do the trick. (Mind you, you aren’t asking my favorite *authors*, and I’d throw in a whole slew of them, including Sarah Hoyt and of course Kate Paulk and definitely Rosemary Edghill, if you had asked that instead.) Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s books are a revelation. (Seriously.) How this woman isn’t known to the ends of the Earth is beyond me. She should be one of the brightest stars there is. Her CHRONICLES OF NUALA series is as multi-layered as DUNE, and yet it’s far more approachable, the romances all work, the counter-cultural stuff works, the science works — and then, she writes fantasy, too! Her NIGHT CALLS, a YA historical fantasy in the type of thing Pat Wrede is now famous for, but predating Wrede by about fifteen years, has been re-released by Book View Cafe (as have all her novels), and KINDRED RITES is just as good.

    Those latter two novels are incredibly life-affirming and in some ways are also spiritually satisfying. It beats the Hell out of me why this woman isn’t feted to the skies and why she doesn’t have a bunch of hardware on her shelf — but then again, I haven’t understood why *your* novels haven’t been appreciated by the cognoscenti, either. (I think the cognoscenti are a bunch of raving lunatics most of the time, personally.)

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