“So what do you do when the old man is gone?
-Do you want to be him?”
“I’ve come down from the upper class to mend your rotten ways.
My father was a man-of-power whom everyone obeyed.
So come on all you criminals! I’ve got to put you straight
just like I did with my old man twenty years too late.
Your bread and water’s going cold.
Your hair is too short and neat.
I’ll judge you all and make damn sure that no-one judges me.”
Jethro Tull, Thick as a Brick, Part 1
Yes. I’ve been indulging in Tull again. The lyrics make me think, which is probably — on balance — a bad thing. It makes me naggy and irritable, as well as giving me ideas, many of which are probably bad things at least in someone’s view. Still, given Sarah’s excellent post on SF’s dahlings despising the working class the other day I thought the lines about coming down from the upper class too appropriate for our new overlords… uh the establishment of sf. Especially the part about judgment.
I also was amused at how ignorance leads people to jump to conclusions, especially pre-concevied ideas about people they don’t know anything about. Our self-elected ‘upper class’ seem quite good at sneering at what they assume are stupid rednecks, only to find they’re rednecks because they work, but they’re not stupid. We’ve had a few blunder in here like that feller from the Hugo committee, and couple of jackasses who couldn’t do elementary maths, but somehow where our ‘betters’ that we ought to listen to. As a man who works a lot with his hands, and raises his own food and has a lot to do with ordinary farmers and fishermen, there are dumb ones, but probably less than there are dumb office-workers or shop assistants, and far far less than dole bludgers or politicians. Maybe once that wasn’t true, but urbanization has changed that. Assuming they don’t read is a mistake. Assuming you can judge a human’s intellect by his social class or even his politics is another, especially if you know nothing about either.
But what I was talking about was that as a writer (well, as a human too, and the same for monkeys but more so) we have role models, people, and systems we look because it’s a complicated world. Sometimes we do this because it beats the hard work of thinking for ourselves, and other times because we did that thinking, and realized that they were getting it right, and that by learning from them, we might get some of that right too. It took me a while to grow up enough to realize that my old man had taught me a lot, despite me trying not to learn.
And when he was gone… I was lost for a while. On a different scale so too I think many of those who followed the USSR Banner, or, in an earlier time were the Blackshirts were lost. It’s a trait within social animals. We look for leadership, we look for examples, even solitary, independent-minded people like me. And as a reader I know I turn back to the authors who give me the role models I am looking for. I guess it’s why when times are tough, you’ll find me going to read a Louis L’Amour – probably Flint, or Fallon (but that’s a more complicated thing. He’s a Loki character and Ginia is one of my favorite heroines), or Sprague De Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall. Mouse Padway is my kind of hero, I suppose. I’ve not found anyone to replace those writers. If you asked me what I aspired to be like, there an element of those story book heroes. And obviously, that carries through to my writing. I can’t say any of my characters are what I would like to be (especially not with what I do to the poor bastards). But there are aspects. They all take on hell with a fire-bucket. They slug it out if they have to… but they’d rather think it out, and use their heads to win. They’re still willing to bleed and kill or chance dying to do so. They have principles, or find them. They all are, under the trickster façade (of all too many), men –and women, I’d ride the river with. The kind I’d love at my back when things get tough. Sometimes they’re weak, and sometimes failing, some are certainly not ‘good’. But they’re honorable men (yes, and women. They’re also not bloody petty).
It’s what I need in a new book. It’s what I suspect many of us lost when the writers of our formative years passed on. There may well be heroes and role models to be found now, but they’re a lot rarer IMO. Maybe that’s what we need.
So who inspires you, and why?
And yes, in some ways I do want to be him.