“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.

42 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

42 responses to ““So what do you do when the old man is gone?

  1. sanfordbegley

    I’ll agree on L’Amour, not so much on De Camp for me personally. I’ll add Heinlein and Drake

    • Not Sprague de Camp in general – just that book, where Mouse Padway is physically weak, has no skills in weapons, and only has his brains to stand against the coming dark ages. I guess it is partly the ide that one man can change history too.

  2. bkc1066

    Heinlein, De Camp, Pournelle/Niven,

    • I’m a Pournelle/Nivn fan, but I can’t offhand think of one of their heroes that made me think ‘Gee I want to be that ” 🙂 – care to offer an example?

  3. Once I got it through my thick head I needed a L’Amour man in my life, which took me a while… found him, though. And I’d agree that those are the kinds of books I love to read. I do have a few authors who approach that level of writing men (and women) who inspire me. But too many these days have gone down the anti-hero path, and their main characters (whom I will not dignify with hero) are impossible to even like, they are so flawed.

  4. Uncle Lar

    For me the two that immediately leap to mind are Ringo and Correia. Both tend towards heros writ large. And Mike Williamson has done some pretty impressive stuff as well. Funny ain’t it though that they all happen to write for Baen.
    On a completely different note, thoroughly enjoyed Joy Cometh once I got it through my thick head that it was set in current day rural Australia. Had not gotten that factoid firmly in place when I first dived in, so I kept stumbling on the background details. Once I adjusted my frame of reference I was able to fully appreciate your fine work.

    • Uncle Lar, in an odd way it just shows the strong similarities rural communities in the US (and elsewhere, probably) have to ours, in that you COULD confuse it. I had to be somewhat wary about too many specific references, lest people take it for a roman-a-clef. Which of course it could never be 😉

  5. Woke up this morning with Heavy Horses in my brain, come here and find Thick as a Brick. Good way to start the day. I’d add Piper to your list – especially Pappy Jack.

    • I’m not terribly musical, but I love the words… and the twists. “Heavy horses, move the land under me.” Think about that for a moment. It’s the HORSE that is the fixed point to Anderson.

  6. I’d add a few of Andre Norton’s characters. Simon Tregarth and his lady, the characters in the Gryphon Trilogy, when cornered, they fight, they’re willing to learn and adapt, and they stay true to what is right and good, even though it costs them blood, tears, and treasure.

    I grew up reading the books in the Bantam WWII history series (not exactly series, but anyway) and they were all about honorable men (and a few women) of all shapes and sizes trying to do the best they could with what they had. Elitism got knocked out of them right quick, until they’d earned it. I don’t recall many saints, unless you count the chaplain on the USS Franklin, and he’d be the first to deny that he was anything close to sainthood. I do recall a lot of people that made me want to be like them, even if they were guys from the Bronx and I was a gal from Texas.

  7. Jim McCoy

    For me, it’s Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman all day long. Whether it’s the steadfastness of Sturm Brightblade doing his final duty on the battlements or Riverwind pining for the woman he could never have while protecting her. Who can forget Tika taking on draconians with a frying pan because she had no equipment and less training, or Flint Fireforge following his friends till the end?

    The heroism of the characters in those stories is maybe even more impressive to me now then it was when I read those books my freshman year of high school. Through it all they stuck together and saved the world. It’s a lesson that we could all learn to emulate.

    • Yes – I need to go back and read those stories…

    • Hey Jim. I have a cast-iron frying pan that’d kill a man, with one blow, IF the weilder could swing it 😉 (I inherited it from my old man, who I think took it from his home in Basotholand (as it was then). It’s maybe 100 years old and good for another hundred, and any number of skillet-related injuries along the way.

  8. I’ll second L’Amour. Flint was great book. Loved L’Amour’s short story collections, too. Great stuff. Add ons? Jim Butcher, because Harry Dresden is the kind of hero I’d like to be, if I couldn’t manage the Michael Carpenter role. 🙂

    Of course, the majority of the main characters in Tolkien’s LOTR rise to this level (inspirational/aspirational).

    Disturbingly small, I must say, but I agree with another poster: many of the more ‘modern’ writers have taken their heroes down the ‘anti-hero’ path, which, while I may find entertaining once, does not generally merit a repeat engagement.

    • I find a redemption story makes the anti-hero more compelling, but most modern authors don’t seem to be acquainted with redemption except maybe by death.

  9. Andre Norton’s heroes were always what Inspired me. Dane Thorson apprentice Cargo Master on the free trader Solar Queen and Ross Murdock hunting aliens in Earth’s past. I aspire to write such riveting tales.

  10. Andre Norton’s witch world books got me through some very bad days as a teenager. I go back to Citizen of the Galaxy (Heinlein) when I feel like an outsider. Tolkein’s books and especially books where people fight or scheme their way out of bad situations and then do something very good. I know the feeling of being broken and damaged and putting the pieces together again– never the same– weaker in some ways and stronger than others. I don’t like books where things are handed to a person at every turn…

  11. Reblogged this on Cyn Bagley – Poet and Writer and commented:
    We need more heroes in fiction– who get going when the going gets tough.

  12. McChuck

    Now? Pratchett’s Sam Vimes and Granny Weatherwax. Heinlein’s Lazarus Long (minus the plural marriage) – the Notebooks are great advice. (Of course, most of Heinlein’s main characters are properly heroic.) In case of emergency, break (possibly lead-lined) glass to unleash Kratman’s Carerra.

    When I was young? Burroughs’ John Carter – he’s a Gentleman Adventurer, after all. Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers, even though the White Mice are a bit creepy. Robin Hood (the Sheriff shot first!) and King Arthur.

    • Jim McCoy

      YMMV, and apparently does, but Carrera has always been a little too close to the ragged edge of sanity (or possibly OVER the ragged edge of sanity) for me to really find him as inspirational. Granted, the man wins wars but he always feels like he’s one inch away from snapping and doing something horrific. Of course, that’s what makes the character entertaining.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        “he always feels like he’s one inch away from snapping and doing something horrific”.

        And he’d agree with that statement. [Smile]

      • McChuck

        He has the insight to see clearly what needs to be done for his people to survive (both genes and memes), the strength of will to do it, and the strength of character to personally accept the consequences. Even at the cost of his sanity. Every Hero should have a tragic flaw that is directly related to his greatest strength.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        Kratman inspires me as a thinker and as a writer.

        I may have differences with him, but look at how he measures words and arguments.

        He knows his target very well and finds the words to hit it.

    • Yes, Pratchett IS a modern exception. Of course he started a long time back, Although I’m more a ‘Moist’ sorta guy 🙂

  13. Chief45

    agree on the older stuff. L’Amour, Piper, RAH, newer like Drake, Weber, Ringo, Correia. On the new stuff, Peter Grant’s Maxwell books are a refreshing change, a strong, competent character. I deal with whinny, evading, not my fault, I’m not responsible people on a daily basis, I sure as heck won’t read them for my personal enjoyment.

  14. Three from the first Dustwalker book for a newer one. Read it nine months ago. He starts off an anti-hero, ends as an actual hero. “Always kiss the girls good-bye.”

  15. Arwen

    The Lord of the Rings heroes, especially Sam.

    • Uh. So shoot me. There are times when I would strangle Frodo, and wish he was bit more like Sam. I prefered Bilbo to Frodo, mind you.

    • Arwen

      I give Frodo a bit more slack because he was stuck with the ring which was truly a burden. But Sam is my favorite of the hobbits.

      • Tolkien himself described Sam as ‘the chief hero’ of The Lord of the Rings. When I first read the books at the age of twelve, I didn’t see it; partly this was because Frodo was set up to be the hero in the opening chapters, and I was rather miffed that Sam upstaged him later on, because I liked things ‘set out fair and square with no contradictions’, like the hobbits themselves. But I do strongly admire Sam; though I recognize him as both braver and tougher than I have ever managed, and so cannot regard him as a ‘role model’.

  16. Eleanor

    Frodo was a little too saintly and lacking in common sense. I preferred also preferred Sam. Besides, he named one of his kids “Elanor” 😉

    Humm…hero reads: Cordelia and Aral from Cordelia’s Honor, Zane Grey (esp. the early stuff like Betty Zane), Kipling’s Stalky and Co., seconded both Heinlein, Andre Norton, and Tolkien, C.S. Lewis Narnia series.

  17. mrsizer

    Kim Kinneson was the first name to pop into my head. Now that I think about it, I’m not too sure; shades of eugenics and a hogshead, if not buttload, of deus ex machina.

    I admire Ash, but I’m not sure I would want to be her. I don’t think her service deserves her. I know I’d walk away and let them all die whatever horrible death befell them. On the other hand, not doing that is what makes her heroic.

    Sigh. It’s like being fit: Knowing what to do is easy; it’s the actual doing of it that’s the hard part. All the more reason for role models.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      I really like Doc Smith.

      • John in Philly

        And Doc Smith wrote large. And not just the Lensmen, read Spacehounds of the IPC for a hero and a strong female character.

        Ringo’s lead character in the Ghost (Paladin of Shadows) series is not going to be a candidate for the admirable lead. As much of my disposable income that has gone to John Ringo, I do not suggest that new Ringo readers start with this series.

        John in Philly

  18. Lately I find Tony Hillerman to be good literary comfort food. For inspiration though, it’s Robert E. Howard all the way. I’ll watch a Sam Peckinpah movie sometimes, to remind myself of how powerful a story about deeply flawed men can be.

  19. BobtheRegisterredFool

    Kipling and Spoor come to mind. I also have some inclination to mention Shonen Jump and Tsutomu Sato. Perhaps I simply do not have the sense to do the question justice.

  20. Dan Lane

    Some of y’all got a few of mine already, but there’s more out there.

    Chandler’s Marlowe, for one. Though I’m not quite as tough as all that. I’m not sure anyone is. Keith Laumer’s Bolos. Sometimes I think he made them machines because dignity and honor were going to be going out of style. Retief, as well, in some ways. David Gemmel turns out some interesting heroes as well. Not so often you see the story from a more mature view, watching the younger heroes make the same old mistakes.

    Have to think on this one. We tend to admire heroes that are better than ourselves. That being the case, there ought to be quite the market for the story that goes against the grain and gives us someone worthy. Someone to aspire to be like. A consequence of disbelieving in real evil is that the average Trad-Pub paperback these days doesn’t have much to show of real good, either. Which is sad, because those make for darn good stories.

  21. Scott

    David Gemmell’s heroes, even the flaured ones like Waylander.
    Each had codes to live by, hard men people to look up to, people who were larger than life, especially to a 13 year old.
    Yes, I shed a manly tear when I heard about his death. Time to haul out Legend or maybe stand with Druss at Sken pass again.