Of horse-manure, mud and ideas
Not necessarily in that order, of course, or easily distinguished from each other.
It’s been a thoughtful few days. Horse-manure and mud have that effect on me – or maybe it’s working at fairly tedious tasks that allow a fair amount of free brain-space. This usually ends badly when you find you’ve attempted to remove a horse-poo before the horse had suitably removed the kicking end from close proximity…
Well, no I didn’t actually get kicked. Not by the horse anyway. The sheep, yes. It’s a trainee-puppy-kicker, I tell you. It expressed its rage suitably at the wicked whitish heterosexual male who risked life and limb to haul her up the steep hole she had fallen down and foundered in. I believe it has accused me of anti-SoC discrimination. It’s a 14 year old sheep and blind in one eye, and none-too-bright, even for a sheep.
I’ve been being… I suppose you might say a sucker, but well, I usually am, for what I consider good reason. A friend had his mother’s memorial service off island – and his wife keeps an entire menagerie of animals on their remote little hilltop farm. She’s… well kind of obsessive about looking after them. And, for some reason she is prepared to trust me to look after them. It’s not something I do eagerly or even willingly, but there are times when a man just pats his buddy on the shoulder and says ‘Sure mate. It’s important that you all go. I’ll do it…”
There are 2 guinea pigs. One kitten. Four non-egg-laying chickens. Three charming Border collies (who cannot be out at the same time) six elderly sheep (all rescues). Two goats (who like to take out people, sheep, dogs….) a Shetland pony, and two high-bred, nervous, unfamiliar-with-other-people dressage horses. The diet-and-care sheet is 12 pages. Most of the animals get three meals a day, and clean-up. The guinea pigs get fresh chopped carrot, cucumber, capsicum (the three CCC) and apple – a pome (CCCP) – and dried Lucerne chaff, and guinea-pig food, and fresh grass, water, and a change of their favorite spot’s newspaper. And that is one of simple ones… It took me basically 6-7 hours a day, partly because I was unfamiliar with it, and partly because I didn’t get kicked, and partly because it is a lot. Fortunately, most animals – even the horses, who are notoriously jumpy — seem to like me. Well… The sheep I had to haul out the hole was suspicious that I might have designs on her virtue, even though I told her I was of South African extraction (you’d think the goats would be nervous) – but otherwise the rest are all convinced I’m their buddy. Not even explaining to the sheep about my Scots heritage could stop them trying to nuzzle me.
The farm is up about 3 miles of clay track, which, with the rain was… instructive. It was that lovely thin soaking rain which turns the surface clay to soap, and leaves the hard underlayer – except where it has puddled. It was like driving a half-cut snake, with several interesting moments of wondering if I was going to make an involuntary acquaintance of an attractive gum tree. At least the truck found it attractive – and nothing I could do was going to going to stop it slithering straight to that desired meeting.
From my point of view I found the gum-tree nice from far, but far from nice, close up. However, I managed to get past with barely scraping an acquaintance. A lot of the time my truck’s ass was trying to overtake its front, but fortunately I am well versed in my own ass overtaking my front, so I know what to do. I was quite descriptive at times. At no point however would I have described it as herkily-jerkily or wibbly-wobbly, but I did use a few terms I learned from Boot camp. I reminded myself that a lot of people do go hurtling around in mud in 4x4s and riding the quad in the rain for fun.
But it did stir my thinking. It got me away from desk – the wordbank-account is now overdrawn — and I’m sure the cold wet bracing air did my ‘flu the world of good. One thing about being a writer… is that it is all grist for the mill… it’ll be in a book one day – the way the horse’s ears move – and what that means, the way their breath smells, the warmth of it on your face… and the way the products of the other end smell.
It also got me thinking about some rather stupid waffle I’d read about post-scarcity, post-work society as well as how this all fitted into my writing philosophy. I’m not quite as dim as I pretend to be, and though my hands and body were busy there was little for my head. Post-scarcity was a good model. We’ve been – theoretically – there for a long time. In practice you may not have noticed. So I plotted out a trilogy which reflects a somewhat less utopian but more hopeful future for mankind. It’s… possibly more pragmatic, but then, unlike the last author I read pontificating about basic minimum wages and how this would free humanity from having to stress, and make them vastly more productive human beings (in other words publishers would no longer have to be expected to pay at all…) I’ve mucked out stables and indeed pig pens, and done a hundred other basic tasks, beside write or think. Most of them are tedious. Most of them actually require quite a lot of adaptability and thought… briefly. It’s very like the army. Long periods of incredible tedium and brief bits where you rapidly wish like hell it was boring again. You can mechanize things which are steady and systematic and don’t require adaptability easily. In future a thinking machine could collect horse-dung, and also deal with the other variables… but it would have to be a thinking, versatile machine, utterly content in grunge labor… Which is a bit of a waste seeing as grunge labor will be dirt cheap. And self-producing too. I suspect Mike Rowe would approve, the Hugo-fixers will hate it. There’s a lot more, but you’ll have to buy the book, or read it on KU… which I suspect will be the future for a lot of books judging by TOM sales.
It did get me thinking too about what I was doing, and why. I’m a competent biologist, and, if I say it myself quite good at animal husbandry (no, really, ask any sheep. Just not the goats.) I know full well that the animals would have been 100% with a much lower level of care. In some cases they might even, long term be better off. Most of what is being done is for the welfare of the human in the equation. But I did my best to do it her way… because that was what I agreed to, because that what set her mind at rest… and mostly because that is what she trusted me to do. Some people you can trust, and I’d like to be one of those. And the same is true with the relationship between the writer and his audience. If the audience is expecting, and has paid for what they want out of a book (and this is particularly true of a franchise, but can be true from a specific author, or genre) you’re betraying their trust. Don’t be that author, or they won’t be your return customer (and no I don’t want to look after the animals again. But I do want to sell books again.) Trust, once lost, is not easy to regain.
Second thing I got out of this: no one wants to read about your tedium. The amusing or exciting bits, yes. But the reality is the gaps between are tedious – and they get you from exciting scene to funny one. That’s why those ‘bridges’ are so hard to write. And that is really what separates the great from the ‘also ran’ – doing that smoothly so it is not visible. That ‘easy read’? That was hard to do well.
Finally what is fun as a hobby – be it riding the quad in the rain or slithering your 4×4 through the mud or shooting a wallaby (I probably shoot more than 95% of people. It’s all our meat, bar the pork I raise for bacon, and all my animal’s food. I’m competent enough at it, rather like most people are competent at a physical job they do a lot. I’m no gung-ho hunter. It’s just a job that needs doing and must be done well.) But as a job, like writing, parts of it are not fun. They just need to be done and done well. You expected romantizing of it? From me? Yes… I could have done many other things. I chose this and I do love it, even the tedious bits. Yes I am an idealist and romantic, even if I laugh at myself about it. Plans on how to spectacularly and bizarrely redshirt your copy editor that get you through those tedious bits.
Talking of trends which surprised and rather pleased me: CNN faced with major losses has done something really surprising. It left me stunned.
They did the unprecedented.
They admitted they had a problem (they’ve been denying this utterly for some time.).
Their CEO admitted they have an excellent (and for certain qualities of ‘excellent’ they may well be) team of Liberal (as in US liberal=left wing) presenters, but that they would be hiring more moderate, moderate-right presenters. I don’t know if it will save CNN – but there’s a CEO realizing that in a country where 26% of your audience self-identify as ‘Liberal’, the competition for 26% is steep among their peers, and at least getting a broader window will help the bottom line. It’s something of a sea-change, really. Near unthinkable once, and yes, those probably aren’t much in the way of moderates, let alone anything else… but it reflects vast change in society. Given the populist revolt – Sanders, Trump, Brexit, Five Star, the Austrian presidency… there are certainly things afoot which the elite in the media and politics and indeed publishing had no idea of the dissatisfaction and number of people who where unhappy with them, and their attitudes.
Dire portents and strange signs
Talking of strange – I have an article up on Baen.com. Strange Sex
Oh, Dave Freer, no!