A Bumkin’s view
Now, as Mike Glyer informed me that moral people would accede to the writer’s request to publish the entire work, unfisked, I am putting him to the test. I would like anything I write that they quote, quoted in full by File 770 and any Puppy Kickers.
Firstly a little message for Easter: Hu’ta’ QISt! Hu’bejta’!
You can call me a country bumpkin if you like (call me anything you please. I don’t really care. I’d hardly call myself ‘monkey’ if I was worried). I can wear that one with pride, because you’d call a lot of men I look up to and try to emulate ‘country bumpkins’.
On Friday I was part of select group of such men, men where being accepted and liked means a huge amount to me – more than any award ever would or could. We were slaughtering pigs, processing eight of them for 4 different families. It’s totally un-commercial – these are pigs raised for home consumption, by people who farm sheep and beef for your consumption. It’s hard physical work, and for the record, probably the most humanely acquired meat, short of growing it in a vat. I’m the only one who isn’t a full-time farmer, and the age ranges from 17 to 70. We have a chiller, and shoot the pigs, but pretty much everything else is like stepping back a thousand years. Yes, even the jokes.
I’m the smoker, and do the bacon and hams. The old guy who used to do it for them died, then they tried to send them ‘away’ to get done, but I do it better, which is my contribution, along with my share of the pigs. Curing and smoking a craft bordering on art, and I’ve got thirty years of experience at it. One of the others does the brawn, sausages are Norm and I, and the slaughtering and butchering get divvied up. Honestly, you send Bernie along, he’ll learn more about real socialized effort and reward than you could outside of an Amish barn raising, and yet a less urban socialist set of people would be hard to find.
Couple of other things are, well, interesting, from writing world perspective. The first is, we’re all men. Not all white men – two of the five guys working would qualify as that. Like my mutton-birdin’ friends, this is real traditional life, which yes, has some degree of separation by sex, in quite a lot of cultures. The reasons are entirely pragmatic, and no-one gives a toss if you have balls or not. It’s just a case of can you lift a hundred and fifty pounds and carry it? The job is hard, hot, dirty and not without risks. You get there by being willing to do it, not by some mennist plot. It’s hard to find folk who will (same with the birdin’). A first invitation is easy. A second one, isn’t. And honestly those who don’t get a call ‘we need to kill some pigs. You in?’ probably don’t want to be there. It’s backbreaking and easier to go to the butcher. You don’t know how it dies, it’s not the same quality (our pigs all live well, mostly free-range, and die unstressed, content until the last), but it’s only money you have to put in. I’m through to my fifth now (and sixth birdin’).
I noticed (because noticing is what I do. Good writers notice and remember, and I want to be as good a writer as possible) that of the five men, I saw all bar one (and I’ve seen him do the same other occasions) take minor, un-necessary steps to make the animals they were going to kill more comfortable. Petting a pig (yes, pigs like being scratched. They’ll also cheerfully eat you. The two are not exclusive) giving it a food-treat, fetching water for it. They were able to put themselves in the pig’s trotters, if you like. Feel empathy, but divorce themselves from that enough to do the job that had to be done.
The other thing that is fascinating – particularly after Snowcrash’s comment last week on MGC — is just how the guys think. Now the youngster – one of the guy’s sons, is the only one there who hasn’t come up from hard-scrabble, who hasn’t looked farm-disaster, losing everything in the face (that’s me too. I was managing a fish-farm when our feed price, our major cost… trebled) and survived. Their timescales tend to be at least two years, to generational. These are supposed to be ‘slow’ country bumpkins, but in disaster (and in farming – and killing pigs, something always goes wrong. As sure as in combat) they sure do think fast and inventively. There’s no point in waiting for the fire-brigade, the plumber, or the snake handler, or even the ambulance.
With me rock-climbing and diving (and for both, being old, and still, last I looked, alive) these are easy and natural ways for me think. Risk and response to that go hand in hand, as does assessing the risk, thinking through the disasters when –and before they happen, working out the odds, that’s like breathing. I’m not even aware of doing it, just as my farmer friends are not. That certainly was true for a lot across the world back in human history. If you just did stuff because it seemed like a good idea, because you felt like it, for emotional reasons, without working out the consequences… well, think of it as evolution in action. On the other hand you have react fast, decisively and YOU have to do it, when you can see it needs doing.
Things have changed, and with a lot of our of our population being urban, fixing problems yourself and thinking long term about what effect your actions have are probably near Darwin Award stuff in many a city. The cops, and the plumbers, and politicians (really, there is a difference between them) take a dim view of you horning in on their jobs. In crowded environments it does make a degree of sense, because your bit of evolution in action can be hundreds of other people dying or being injured.
Of course you don’t select for long-term thinking, empathy, personal action and personal responsibility both in culture and genes for millennia to have that vanish overnight. It’s still common and I believe still useful in places where these things are no longer life-essential necessities. I do believe it’s frowned on by most politicians and ‘leaders’ (community, thought and otherwise) and those in positions of power and authority.
It does mark a growing divergence, though. There used to be a pretty solid continuum between grasshoppers and ants. If you’re one side of that, be aware the other side exists. This, I suspect, is particularly true if you want to write their characters, understand their motives. You might still wish or need to have whatever nasty fate they’re destined for – bacon or sausage, but it still helps you as a writer. And yes, I mess it up too. There are certain occupations – farming, diving, diving, rock-climbing, are obvious to me, but there are many more – running your own business — that NEED the ability to look at the viewpoints of others, and to think about consequences. But the one that needs this most is writing good fiction.
For me the most difficult phases of plotting a book are early ones, when actions – possibly small actions – can cascade, and change the direction of the book. Working through those possible scenes, working out how or what your character will do is like playing many games of somehow interlocking chess, many moves ahead. I plot first, but those plots change with the actual story and depth of the characters developing.
As a writer – looking at it as a story. There have been three telling things about ongoing Hugo debacle.
Firstly: the Puppy Kickers – even the brighter ones, not mere camp-followers, have entirely failed to grasp what the Sad Puppies were about. We’ve still got puppy kickers saying ‘Oh it’s about getting Larry Correia/Brad Torgersen or Vox Day a Hugo.’… because that is what would be the motive for them. I set out my position here. I think just about everyone in Sad Puppies has done so. And everyone who is in the obvious running for the Novel … have recused themselves. Yes. They have said – Not like John Scalzi ‘out for now’ — They’re OUT. (Yes, that includes me. I’m the most minor and irrelevant of the Sad Pup authors. Which makes resolving the situation… tricky, to near impossible.)
Then we get ‘Oh they only want manly men doing manly things and oh they’re all misogynist racist homophobes etc etc. Mind-numbing stupid slanders that don’t stand up to two seconds robust examination… but they still keep on bleating the same dumb. And those among the Puppy Kickers who know they’re wrong and easily debunked are silent and complicit.
At least the more intelligent Puppy Kickers do understand what we’re about and were trying to do. But they don’t WANT to believe it or accept the trouble their precious WorldCon, Hugo or the genre in general is. They don’t want to accept that to survive they need to move toward demographic representivity and the center. They hope it’ll just go away and they can continue just like they were… which was dying, but it was not as painful as trying to be revived. Of course some do know exactly what is going on, and how the pond is shrinking. But it is their personal short-term interest to encourage the wilder insanities instead. Some of them are very nasty pieces of work, who don’t care, as long as they’re all right, for now.
This is denial – which is a very important thing for an author to understand, and be able to write about.
Secondly: consequences, consequences, consequences. The grasshopper way of voting is not to think about those, or to only think of absolute immediate. It’s more about that immediate gratification than ‘will this help us get through winter. I suppose some Pansters write like that… The situation traditional publishing sf/fantasy finds itself in right now, is one where the author body (and, indeed the editorial staff) are just WAY off the demographics of the possible readers. If you take the Gallup poll of who consider themselves ‘liberal’ – 24 % of US population does. On the other hand if you did a count – especially among the newer authors in Trad Publishing, it probably runs 95%. That 95% can only survive by selling to the part of the audience who do not share their social and political views. The opposite is not true. 5% can do pretty well out only selling to 76%. Better with less competition, really, if they were going to be as mean as the Puppy Kickers. The 24% never bought their books before anyway. The Puppy Kickers have generated a lot of polarization (and before you say that was the Sad Puppies too – ask the hard question: who had everything to gain by NOT generating polarization? Who has nothing to lose? Work it out.) If – and this is an election year, when things are heated – this polarization spreads further among the readers, who loses? If Sad Puppy supporters decide in the light of last year and the Hugo committee’s decision to take sides and hand over the data to people from Making Light, to vote in the noms… and then unless they have candidates they REALLY want to support, to simply withdraw their interest, who loses?
Thirdly: We have the writer’s typical dilemma. We have characters on both sides of story with very different points of view. We have had (and will have) actions which have consequences. How do you resolve all this? Or is heading for further collapse with implacable certainty? That’s not a fun story to read, especially for those with most to lose. If I was writing the book I’d change at least some of the actions of those with most to lose. The Puppy Kickers face hard decisions, need forethought they have never displayed. They need to provide some large motive for the Sad Puppies not follow the most likely courses of action. I said last year after Sasquan that the price for that would be high. It’ll only get higher and harder.
I am glad I don’t have to write this novel. I’m only a country bumpkin, who needs to work out his bacon cure per weight.