Slogging forward, looking back

Have you had enough leftover candy trick-or-treaters didn’t get, or candy appropriated from your descendants or siblings after they crashed from the sugar high? Ready for something more filling, more varied, and much more tasty to the brain? Here, check out the indie halloween sale.

One of the strange side effects of LCHF diet is that I’ve pretty well lost my sugar cravings, and now things that used to taste awesome taste sickly sweet to me. This year’s Halloween candy did not escape the effect, though a strong helping of nostalgia made sure several pieces were consumed anyway. Nostalgia, you see, is a secret spice that makes everything it sticks to better. It’s very hard to transmit, and usually only appears as a residue from memories, though good authors can subtly sneak it into a story, and leave you craving a dish or a particular drink or to visit a place after reading an adventure wherein it was a part. It’s most noticeable around import stores, where people who have fought and sacrificed to get to a better world will indulge in snacks, candies, sausages, pates, and spreads that are practically oozing nostalgia ankle-deep in the aisles.

Nostalgia also drips from the pages of books, rendering some things awesome that are completely opaque to others coming at it cold, with no common reference and a headful of opposing viewpoints. To those approaching the Illiad and the Odyssey as a dry literary reading, they may not understand the sheer guts, glory, and excitement of these tales when told in the hands of a warrior, or a sailor. Certainly, they’ll start reaching for the cliff notes instead of singing out “Sing, Goddess, the wrath of Peleus’s son! ‘Cause Helen’s gone AWOL, it’s time for some fun!”

For a story is more than words; it is a shared emotional experience, transmitted from the author to the reader. And the best stories bring the reader back again and again, to bring back the emotions and the experience again, even in echoes.  A question arose, last week, on whether or not one should make fun of a grown man reading Treasure Island.

I found the very question puzzling: what does it gain your soul to mock other people? Why would you want to tear others down? But to be very clear, I’m very strongly against the notion. Because there are many reasons to read kid’s stories. Perhaps he was getting rid of a bad day by re-reading a favorite book, and remembering how he’d daydreamed of running off to such an island as a youth. Perhaps the man was reading it for the first time, and is enjoying it so much he’s suspending disbelief and temporarily blind to the gaping plotholes and papered-over problems. Who are we to ruin his enjoyment?

Perhaps he was reading it to see why the book is still well known and rather popular over 130 years after its publication. Few books stand the test of time, and if you’re going to write a pirate tale, then it’s wise to know where so very many of them came from. (In fact, if you’re going to write heroic fantasy, or a deconstruction of heroic fantasy, or fantasy at all, do yourself a favor and actually read some Conan the Barbarian instead of assuming you can pick it all up from a Frazetta painting and third-generation removed fantasy. Read not only Robert E. Howard, but some Lovecraft, the original Mary Shelley Frankenstein, EE “Doc” Smith, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Dashiell Hammett and Bram Stoker. You’ll find the stereotypes of the authors’ works don’t necessarily match what they actually wrote at all.)

As Joe in PNG noted in the MGC comments yesterday, “PTerry did Cohen the really, really, really old barbarian how long ago- 1986? Even the “Illiad” poked holes in the heroic fantasy narrative- witness Achilles initial rejection of lasting fame and glory in favor of a long, ordinary life.”

Kris Rusch has also noted how many young writers she’s run into who are completely ignorant of the many, many female authors who’ve been in science fiction and fantasy since the start. Among other reasons, many of their works have gone out of print, and the new writers coming in may not have read the old magazines, or picked up the older, dated-artwork books at the used bookstores. So they really, truly, may not know that their groundbreaking new take has been done to death thirty years before they came on the scene, or that they’re trying to reinvent a wheel that has not only been invented, it’s evolved to all-wheel drive with traction control.

Check out her project to bring back knowledge of the past in this genre here:

Take time, too, to reread the books you liked both as a reader, and as a writer. You’ll start to see how they managed to tug your heartstrings, and incorporate that into your own tales. And may your own works someday evoke that same feeling in your readers!

…and now that the sugar has worn off, I go to bed. To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub. For when the cat leaps up onto my bladder and dances across my chest while purring up a storm, who knows what dreams may come?


10 thoughts on “Slogging forward, looking back

  1. I think the death of the publisher’s back catalog has fostered a lot of the genre illiteracy among today’s fans and readers. There was a time where you could almost always find a copy of some truly classic, important work. Now you can barely find something that came out a month or two ago.

    If a new fan wanted to build up a complete Heinlein collection, where would he even start?

    1. Well, I did hand miz Hoyt a thumb drive at LC with a pretty complete collection in at least three formats. Which I believe her cats stole and are holding for ransom.
      And then too, Baen has done a fair number of reprints of some of the classic Heinleins. And of course once you buy an e-book from Baen or Amazon you have download rights for as long as they retain legal rights of distribution.
      Still, as you so correctly point out, there is this vast store of golden age SF&F out of print, but still tied up so as to be ineligible for a Gutenberg type of free publication.

    2. IMHO, ebooks will help fix this problem. I got all of the ERB works in four ebooks for $12, and I’ve noticed eBook compilations of older SFF for fairly cheap prices. I’ll have to try a few to check the quality: if they’re terrible, then I didn’t waste much money; if they’re fairly good or fantastic, then I’ll load up.

  2. Hmm. I have a near-complete collection of a lot of the older stuff. Maybe I should start a lending library. Or alternatively, hold ’em for ransom…

    That reinventing the wheel (badly… usually with a result that’s neither round nor rolls) is a great deal of my frustration with current SF/F, and why after reading a newish work I often feel a need to wash my brain out with the literary equivalent of old-fashioned lye soap. In one such fit of brain-scrub I went to the Open Library and read the first thing my eye fell on, which happened to be a western by Robert E. Howard…… Oh. Oh dear…. I’d forgotten what a good *writer* he was. And the story didn’t feel dated; it felt like I was translocated to an otherwhen.

    1. IRC one of the reasons Andre Norton founded High Hallack research library (alas, closed and scattered after her illness in 2004) was to give new writers just that – a place to go and in one place find old works of Sci fi and fantasy, mythology, folk lore, and the other materials we use to build worlds with. I’m sorry it was not able to continue on, although if you have $$ and time (because of the need to eat and sleep somewhere), there are a few university libraries that have enormous sci-fi sections within their archives. IIRC Kansas State University has a big collection of early stuff, including Lovecraft manuscripts, for example.

      1. I’ve heard the History of Science collection at the University of Oklahoma is picking up some sci fi.

  3. “You’ll find the stereotypes of the authors’ works don’t necessarily match what they actually wrote at all.”

    I think that’s an understatement.

  4. Finished “Princess of Mars” last week, and have just started “Gods of Mars.” I can’t read these classics as quickly as normal, both because I’m trying to absorb the differences in word usage and because I need to work a bit harder to immerse myself in the story. Although, to ERB’s credit, part of my distraction was realizing how many later writers have borrowed from him.

    Got REH’s Conan books a few years back (Ballantine/Del Rey trades), and those were fantastic. Despite the relatively high price, I think I’ll get those editions as epubs — the intros/notes helped give me a richer reading experience.

    1. One thing I find amusing is that parts of many classic SF stories seem cliche, not because they were following tired tropes, but because they created the very tropes those since have worn out. Sometimes, of course, the tropes were already old in the days of Homer.

Comments are closed.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: