A wide country


In the last week or two I have been getting a lesson in how wide even a small space can be.


Now those of you who know me well, will know that I don’t do crowds. The trip into London was pure purgatory for me (that’s Cambridge above, and Wales above that. I did not take any pictures in  London.). For many people, that IS the UK – London, cities, thronging people. Now don’t get me wrong I know full well there are people who love it, love the bustle, the shops, the surge of people around them.  And they are welcome to it, I wish them every kind of joy in it – so long as they don’t want me to be there – or to pretend I like it. Oh some of the buildings are pretty enough, but once seen (or even not seen) I am happy to be with the sheep in the emerald field.

It occurred to me what an apt metaphor this was for the genre of sf and various sub-genres -they may look  as narrow and shadowy and crowded as those streets, especially when viewed through the eyes of those who love that environment. But really they don’t have to be. They’re as varied and different as the imagination of the author.

My own foray into Steampunk (CUTTLEFISH and THE STEAM MOLE) are into a steampunk subgenre – but they’re mostly set in the wide open parts of the world (and yes, they do reflect my opinion of coal, and it’s written from the POV of a biologist. (And no. It’s not about carbon dioxide. Soot yes. But it’s not PC to mention soot. The West has cleaned up its soot. The East and Third world have not. ).  I know, there are always the self-elected gatekeepers who try to keep wrongthink out (who wander the the internet to bludgeon the ‘unrighteous’ with their version of the narrow truth – like the troll Hyrosen who showed up here – but really they are (despite their lynch mobs and pile ons and attempts at exclusion) fairly powerless against writers. I think they find this infuriating.

So if there is something I’d like you take from my adventures on this small island is that even the narrowest small subgenre of the imagination is bigger than anything they can limit you to. DSCN0159

It can be as open as this (Idwyll Slabs, Wales)


Or as chocolate-box as you please (Ogwyn)

14 thoughts on “A wide country

  1. I think part of it is those narrow little streets, even that image from Cambridge looks very confining.

  2. Genre is descriptive, not prescriptive. Most sub-genres seem, to me, to be coined in response to someone who found the conventions of a genre too restrictive and broke free of them.

    Mysteries in the 1930s were polite puzzles set in elegant drawing rooms. Raymond Chandler broke free of that box and used his own experiences with violence and death in the Great War to make murder real and ugly. When people needed a way to describe his style, they called it “Hard-boiled Detective.”

    Horror in the 1960s followed a particular formula–human beings were the good guys and monsters were the bad guys. Anne Rice wanted to write a story in which the vampire and the hero and the victim were all the same person. That concept turned out to be so popular that a name was needed to describe it, and so folks came up with “Urban Fantasy”.

    Mysteries in the 1980s were whodunits. You had a dead body and a group of suspects and a detective who had to figure out which of the latter was responsible for the former. John Grisham, as a young lawyer, thought that conventional mysteries ended just when things were getting interesting and decided to write a mystery that focused on the trial of the murderer rather than the hunt for the murderer. Thus was the “Courtroom Drama” born.

    William Gibson and Bruce Sterling were science fiction writers who were fascinated by the ways that technology changed society. As a thought experiment they began playing with the concept of the computer revolution taking place in the early Nineteenth Century rather than the middle of the Twentieth. Since both writers were of the “Cyberpunk” school, it was a simple matter to call their new novel “Steampunk”.

    I will freely admit that the examples I’ve given aren’t the only ones that led to the development of a particular sub-genere. Dashiell Hammett wrote hard-boiled stories, Whitley Streiber wrote about heroic monsters, James Blaylock wrote steampunk before it had a name.

    But I think the principle is sound–what are called “sub-genres” grow through an expansion of the original genre, not a contraction of it.

  3. Would you be so kind as to elaborate on coal? It’s been a night that has left me slower than even my normal ox-ish self, so I’m uncertain and would prefer to not be mistaken. Thank you.

    1. Guess I’m a touch slow too, Ox. I can’t figure whether Dave means the problems of coal as in “every house has a coal furnace with no pollution controls” or “Asian economic ‘miracle’ based on coal power plants with no pollution controls.”

      Sigh. While you’re at it Dave (if you are) – what is “chocolate box”?

      1. ‘Chocolate box’ – a term for pretty scene as once printed on chocolate boxes. Sorry not aware that wasn’t a common phrase.

        Black carbon (AKA soot) emissions from India, China, and Africa are far higher than from the US or Europe put together, as they have effective control on soot emissions.

        1. So… coal is tolerable with proper flyash controls? I do recall hearing tales of big city snow being black rather than white, from all the coal used for residential heating. I can also understand being leery of mercury and sulfur emissions. CO2? Well, that’s plant food.

          And this is the first I’d the term “chocolate box” used thus, too.

        2. Also: Why isn’t it “PC” to mention soot? Or is it that deflects from the Cause du jour and points out a problem in places where the majority isn’t white and how dare anyone accuse any non-white of non-perfection?

          1. ‘Cause it’s not a part of the greater church of glowing bullcrap warmed-over (AGW). Soot is nasty stuff, small particles full of toxins that you breathe in and such. And ugly, too. But it’s largely controlled in the U.S. and Europe, but not in countries that host protected classes/races.

            So, the little brown brothers and little yellow brothers (who can do no wrong) aren’t singing with the choir of the glowing bull-squeeze church. Their power plants throw out great inky clouds of the stuff. The air is nasty. Black lung is a thing. But, minorities, so they can’t be criticized, because racism.

            Pretty much what you said, good Ox.

        3. Didn’t know what chocolate box meant either. Thought was “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what’s inside,” and here was pretty scenery to show you never know what good things you’ll find.

          Soot, though, is drawing a blank. What comes to mind is the Great Smog of London in the 1950s that may have killed up to 4,000 people, The next thing is soot blocking sunlight and the next is changing planetary albedo. The one after that is the two are contradictory, but might could change the temperature in the upper atmosphere and that might have weather effects.

          These are all just guesses, though. Is there something else about soot?

  4. Off Topic: Saw Amanda’s retweet of Baen’s note of an excerpt of Changeling’s Island and .. dadgummit, I’ve another book on my “to buy” list now.

    1. I only managed to read it the day before yesterday. I enjoyed it, but can’t help but feel there is more to be said about that situation.

      1. Yup. It’s a great book and stands on its own, but there’s something lurking in the background, watching . . . I’m not expecting Mananan Mac Lir to show up, but it wouldn’t surprise me, either.

  5. Nice photos. I forget how far north the UK really is until I see photos like that, where the environment reminds me of the upper plains and the higher mountains in northern North America. Not only is southern England north of the continental US, its north of most of the Canadian population centers, too. I imagine without the Gulf Stream the climate would be far less favorable in the UK than it is.

    that – all of the continental US and most of

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