How little one knows oneself
As John has talked about it on FB, I’m going to break my tradition of not talking about books until the contracts are signed. I’ll be writing a novel in the BLACK TIDE RISING universe with John Ringo.
About maybe 10 years back John said that the Hugo Awards were systemically biased against conservative authors. I was one of the people who said ‘Oh bullshit’, on the assumption that no one would be that petty – or that stupid. Of course, later, when I actually looked at the figures, I found out he was completely right, and I had been completely wrong. I apologized. I was wrong. John was a gentleman about it, and somewhat later I got an invitation to submit a story for an anthology set in that universe. Now, the BTR universe was a big departure for me from my normal sf of fantasy, which are not what one could call ‘near future’ or ‘really plausible’ – but it was something I enjoyed, felt at home with so I wrote with the I hope I could manage to suspend disbelief and take readers along for a ride. I can’t be total failure at it because despite zero marketing and people David Gerrold advocating boycotts, I’ve sold a reasonably large number of books. But… this is near future and IMO dangerously plausible for some form of biological terrorism/warfare. The nearest I had ever come to it was CHANGELING’S ISLAND (which has a substantial fantasy element set in the ‘real’ world).
It’s not my kind of thing, right? I have enough to do without going off on a short-story tangent. I would have politely declined… BUT I thought it was generous gesture, I appreciated that, and what the hell – I’m a hack. I can write anything…
Well, maybe. Within limits.
When I set out to write a first person ‘Cozy’ Murder-mystery from a timid urban female priest’s POV (which is about far as you could get from me) with absolutely no violence on scene… I did it. But it stretched and challenged me. It was HARD.
So there were doubts, real ones. I’ve tried hard to shift my envelope, to keep learning and growing as a writer. But all of us do have limits.
Of course (and probably unsurprisingly to most of you. It’s what I do best and have a natural talent for. My métier, you might say) I was being a fool. I actually loved doing it, and – unlike my female priest – I was writing right in my comfort zone. I’m not a super-skilled veteran like the sekrit squirrel (insider joke. He writes ‘Military SF’ and not for Baen) but I’ve kicked around in a few wild and lonely spots, often exercising my métier. If you live through that often enough, you have stuff to write from experience.
So the take-away from this: if you think something is outside your comfort zone: you need to try it. Maybe you’re as rotten a judge as I am.
One of my ‘bad judgements – which a lifetime of being involved in various forms of volunteer (and less-than-volunteer – as a conscript) rescue/ search things has always proved true is that it takes extraordinary circumstances to show that someone who looks and seems ordinary, isn’t. ‘The good guy with a gun’ who ran TOWARDS the shooting and saved a lot more lives at the Texas church massacre, and the guy who drove the good guy chasing after the murderer, showed that in spades. There are some pretty good humans out there, to balance things out a bit. We tend to hear about the various Hollywood celebrities, and other nasties, but I can tell you from first-hand experience, there plenty of real heroes who are unsung. You know, I’d rather read stories about those ordinary folk who aren’t ordinary when the chips are down than about superheroes.
That was the appeal of ‘Mouse’ Padway in Sprague de Camp’s LEST DARKNESS FALL and Billy Danger in Keith Laumer’s GALACTIC ODYSSEY. Those are old books… but a great, still resonating concept. Some things change in sf/fantasy, but not that. Our ideas of the future have changed a great deal, and sf/fanatsy has changed with it… pushing the limits of what is different and daring.
Or has it?
I don’t think so. I think it’s stuck – principally for political reasons – in what was exciting and daring back in 1960. When I start seeing books that have the ideals of the modern US left (who got all their idea from new ones back then) as a utopia, and the inverse as the villains, the one thing I sure of – they’ll be as wrong about the future as everyone else, and possibly more so. And when you strip all the bull out of it, their demands for more navel-gazing amount to an attack what they fear most: a level playing field where readers decide what they’d like to read, and may the best writers win.
Here’s Dr Mauser’s take it. A good read.