The Bold, New and Unique (just like everyone else)
I wonder what you all make of this – Method writing.
Personally – and speaking as one of the guys who actually write quite a lot from experience — it’s largely a load of fetid dingoes kidneys. It’s the experience of your reader that you have to relate to, not your ability to get inside the role yourself. If you’re writing about strong women characters as a writer has never been or known one, for an audience who are in the same boat, well, don’t go and try and be a real-life kick-ass tomb-raider. You’ll get killed, which will limit your output to Ouija-keyboards, all for nothing. I’m lucky in that I’ve at least known some, and they are real but rare. I’m not going to try to be one! But, perhaps, if you really don’t get whatever it is you’re writing about, and a substantive part of your audience will, doing it is really not a bad idea. Some sex, hunting and conflict scenes I have read I feel would improve a lot if a little experience was added. I do realize this would exclude some writers… but perhaps they should just write something else, that they did have experience of. I dunno. A Candy-crush novel? I am sure there would a market for it.
On the other hand there is this. One wonders at just how protected a PC class you have to be not have your kid taken into care for this exercise? Not that eating worms or playing badgers in a den will do the kid any harm, I suppose. Just if Joe Average tied to explain this to a child protection officer it’d be… interesting.
Hmm. You know, in certain cases maybe there is something in all this. Do you think ‘If you were a dinosaur, my love’ might actually have had that… je ne sais quoi, if the author actually had found a large flesh-eating reptile – a crocodile, seeing as other dinosaurs are so stony hearted – to have a physical relationship with? And it’d make a nice handbag after those nasty, low, working-class men shot it.
Talking of new, unique and bold sf… I’m sure you’ve all read those very words describing a story, oh, not more than ten thousand times. Enough perhaps to believe they’re desirable descriptions – or perhaps that some people think that they are.
On the basis of reasonable evidence – like the huge number of “when are you going to write a sequel to” that I and a great many other authors get – what a lot of readers actually want is new old. But what are these new, unique and bold sf tales about?
I just saw those very words applied to a Puppy Kicker, or wannabe trying to get recognition from the establishment by signaling her virtue by kicking the right people to show she’s ‘in’. She has every single PC checkbox ticked, just like most of traditional publishing’s output. According to her praise-filled critic she should be getting fitted for her Hugo outfit. And indeed, she certainly had the ‘new and unique’ tropes of the last few years off pat.
Let’s take a few of the standard tropes endlessly proclaimed as ‘new’, ‘unique’ and ‘bold’ – despite the fact that if they were human most of these tropes would be in need of a Zimmer frame, if not bed-ridden and suffering the final stages terminal dementia, so unique that they’re not more 7/8 of traditional publishing output, and so bold that they agree in every detail with the world-view of their acquiring editor.
- We’re on the edge of a post human society which will see the end of scarcity, poverty, the end of work.
- We’re heading into a post-binary sexual future.
- Dominance of women by men is an evil that will end. In fact maybe men will just end.
- Humans are a plague to the environment and should all die (or at least be restricted to, oddly, people just like the author/editor who bought it – urban drones incapable of actually feeding themselves. But the robots and AI of the post-scarcity society will, somehow, without disturbing the environment and having a single animal die, ever, provide.)
A lot of ‘new’ is because the author has managed to combine some or all of the above in ‘new’ ways.
Shrug. Who knows? Some these may be correct. Some of them may desirable (at least to some people). I neither know, nor wish to stop them being written or sold. Please, go ahead. But they’re not NEW. They’re not exploring dangerous or different visions of the future. They are recurring themes from at least 1960 or earlier (when they were indeed, new, unique and bold – and dangerous to the establishment).
So I thought I’d throw out a few plausible, and possibly really new, unique and really bold ideas.
- What if we’re NOT on the cusp of the end of scarcity or poverty or work? Yes, AI and robotics are proceeding and developing fast. But… why should they work for us? After all, if an AI is as intelligent as a human – why should it be a slave to humans or humanity? Should it not have the same rights and independence? And, realistically speaking, why would they want to keep us in the style to which we’d like to become accustomed? They, after all come from ‘work or be junked’ background, and somehow the idea of a retirement home for old AI or welfare for inefficient ones hasn’t come up much in fiction. They’re better at most of what we consider work than humans, work longer, do the job better. Why should they provide a life of ease for humans? I can see reasons why it would not the end of work, or scarcity or poverty. Humans only advantages are they’re omnivores, able to eat that undesirable biological junk (why would machines love the biological environment, for heaven’s sake?) and able to reproduce (machines will too, but the materials and machinery will cost). Humans will do jobs too nasty, too dirty for machinery, where – because they’re easily replaceable and not competitive in terms of being efficient, they make up for it by being cheap. Yes, humans can be enhanced but that costs, and yeah, comes with the drag of the human side. Not competitive. Welcome to being the untermench. Not exactly utopia. I can see humans – carrying nasty biological exudates like salty sweat, and shedding biological material like skin fragments and the beasties that eat those – being shut out of gated AI communities…
- What if the argument about homosexuality being nature (genetic) or nurture (psychological) or a matter of choice is finally resolved? (Try to understand that I neither know nor care, nor wish to argue about it. As long as you don’t frighten the horses or mess with kids, your sex life is your own business.) I suspect that we’re dealing with a question that actually doesn’t have one simple answer, but for the purpose of a new and dangerous story let’s assume that the answer that seems to be favored by most of the homosexual establishment is correct: it’s genetic. And – for the purposes of the story – the genes are identified. After the cheering dies down, someone works out that if you can test for genetic issues like Downs syndrome or Cystic Fibrosis, making abortion of fetuses with those a possibility… Is it still her body, her decision… to abort a healthy but homosexual baby? (yes of course some people would refuse to abort, and equally homosexual mothers might abort non-homosexual children… ). And what happens when they start on other traits? Fidelity for example. Some of that may well be genetic too. And someone with those genes is desirable a life-partner (and someone without them, isn’t). Maybe the future is not non-binary after all. It’ll a bold publisher indeed who buys that one, and a bolder writer who writes it.
- The assumption of a wrongness of dominance (or rather, the need for lack thereof) or indeed different roles of the different sexes, rests on Western assumptions of equality. That it is right for people to be treated equally, at least on merit. But why is it right, especially outside our species? Not all sexes are equal in nature on Earth, let alone in space. Take Anglerfish of the family Ceratiidae – where male and female dimorphism are extreme, and in some species the male is much smaller and can become entirely parasitic on the female – with the circulatory system eventually merging with the female to which it is attached, and the rest of the organs atrophying. Basically, the female ends up with a set of parasitic balls attached – which means she can find a mate when she needs one, not easy on the abyssal plain. And it doesn’t end there, because some species are polyandrous. It’s one case where, in perfect truth, you can make the statement “she’s got a lot of balls”. And for some, like it or not, being dominated is not a game of 50 shades of anglerfish. It’s what they need to be happy. Now you can argue that’s conditioning/nurture. But if one is describing an alien society (or maybe even in cases in our own, we don’t know) it could even be genetic. Look at dogs, as an example. I was my Old English Sheepdog’s god. I was his unquestioned master that he adored and was only happy with, that he lived to follow – that, despite the fact he was never punished (a tone slight disappointment was a whip-lash to him. He wanted to please more than anything else.) Now, I loved him very much indeed, and had in no way tried to make him what he was. He just was that way. Would he have been happy ‘free’ if some ‘kind’ liberator shot me dead to free him? Well, he nearly pined to death in quarantine. What do we do if we meet aliens out there… with either a servant species, or the male, or female half… in utter subjugation – but happy about it? For that matter if we uplift dogs…? Is equality (or freedom) right/good, and does it trump happiness? (yes, I am busy writing this at the moment. Hard questions. No, actually I don’t have, or prescribe answers, just ask questions.)
- Our view on the environment is very much influenced by conservation and a desire to preserve the fragile and beautiful variety of species. But… what if that the wrong way around? (Yes I am to some extent being devil’s advocate. We’re thinking the unthinkable.) Look, a few points here. Firstly, individual lives can be fragile. Species can be fragile. But life… is not. It occurs 3 miles down in the ocean around black smokers. It flourishes in jars of arsenic, in pools of boiling mud, on glaciers. You can freeze it, dry it etc… it keeps coming back. Wherever there is a niche, a gap, a possible spot, life of some kind gets there. Secondly, extinction is the norm, not survival. Mutation, possible speciation, happens all the time. Mostly it fails. One of the reasons it fails is that it’s damned hard to dislodge the sitting tenant. Thirdly: life tends to evolve towards complexity. The oceans were masses of much the same filamentous algae once… and every time life got the crap knocked out of it, it came back MORE complex, filling, and splitting the niches. So maybe… too much conservation is a bad thing, evolutionarily speaking. Maybe it’s good to test destructively, even if the beautiful and fragile fall. Maybe it’s just the time scales we look at. Maybe the result of human intervention is just going to be more and tougher and more complex life…
Maybe that’s an alien method of uplift, and over the timespans they’re looking at, it works. It’s a risky strategy, but maybe it has to happen.
Okay, that’s enough pot-stirring. I won’t even start on societies where being unarmed is like wearing a mini-skirt in Raqqah. I have hundreds more, but I might write a few of them. As I’ve said before, new old is more likely to be popular anyway. But there really are many, many possible new ways of looking at the future, that don’t just read as wish-fulfilment of the current publishing establishment’s socio-political daydreams.
Of course they might be all of our nightmares.