I was at sea on 11/11 at 11 past eleven… when we remember the guns falling silent on the Western Front. I did manage to notice the time and spend a minute in silence, remembering. Barbs’s father actually served in that war, having enlisted in the Navy, lying about his age, and having had a daughter at 59. It’s not that far behind us. The courage and sacrifice of soldiers is too easily and too often forgotten – particularly by writers. It’s in part why I wrote the RBV books.
I’ve been reading about Beersheba (1917) – the last great cavalry charge of the Anzac forces. It’s a fool, an even bigger one than I am, who does not try to read and learn about the history and people of the country he lives in, and this is doubly true if you weren’t born there, and absorbed it all your life. Besides as a writer, it’s always grist for the story mill… except in this case it isn’t. No piece of modern, plausible fiction could include it. The Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade charged into the face of machinegun and rifle fire and took the trenches of Ottoman Turks, with their bayonets in their hands, rifles on their backs.
Man… I know they were Australians not Scots, but kilts would have been more comfortable for men with balls that size. It’s almost impossible not to respect that kind of courage.
Mind you, just going over the top – as tens of thousands of men did, well, they probably all needed kilts. This – the trenches of Somme – shaped JRR Tolkien. This, in its way, made the LORD OF THE RINGS what it is. It’s a far, far cry from the caliber of self-elected ‘elite’ of modern sf and Fantasy, having tantrums because someone was so terribly, terribly, horribly awfully insensitive and used the term evil ice-cream name ‘tutti-frutti’ in the title of con talk. You have to laugh. We’ve passed through micro-aggressions, down through nano-aggressions, into pico-aggressions. And they’re demanding ‘respect’. I had a few orificers who demanded respect, back when I was in the army. They didn’t get it: it’s not something you can ‘demand’. It’s given, when it is earned.
You have to wonder what ‘great literature’ to rival Lord of the Rings pico-aggression meltdown will produce. I’m sure that it will be Hugo-worthy.
Anyway, to leave irrelevancies behind (they tell us they’re important but, to give you a practical example of the 7000 + hits on Dr Mauser’s post last week… only 5 (Maybe if the post had been in Mandarin it would be different) came from that ‘vital’ multi Hugo award winning site, file 770, where these self-nominated ‘important’ people hang out. Most of them are clients or dependents of various panjandrums in the slowly dying and shrinking traditional publishing industry.) and to talk about what those men – from many countries and backgrounds, who mastered their fears and rode a horse at entrenchments, charged with fixed bayonets at entrenched foes, or poured out of landing craft in the face of withering fire.
Men from many nations. Men from many backgrounds. And yet… very alike. I know, it’s become fashionable to divide the human race, and pretend we’re not alike in any way. We have different cultures, different backgrounds. Maybe Pommie bastards do get on better with Poms than with Frog-eaters. I chose those terms with deliberate intent, and not just to show what an insensitive clod I am – because you all knew that.
You see: Western culture at its apogee, has an odd, admirable trait – we’re kind to the weak, to the small children, or to the mentally incapable. We don’t put them down or take the Mickey. That would be cruel and pointless. That’s for equals – or even superiors or those who are far more powerful, who will give it back in spades, unless they think we’re the weak, small children or the mentally inferior. I’m thus always mystified as to why some people want to denigrate women or people of other races by treating them as if they were weak, children, or mentally inferior — or why anyone would want to be treated that way.
To return to ‘human’. Take Tolkien, again. His family were epitome of Englishness – and yet… The family origin is German. Just as I study to be Australian, to read the poetry, to read the books, to mix as much as possible with the ordinary people of my country, they did, and had become very English. Which kind of brings me, finally, to my point for tonight. Most of the time I think giving the audience pretty much what they want and expect is probably a good selling technique. There is a time however, when I personally can’t do it.
When Eric and I wrote PYRAMID SCHEME – one of my characters was South African – a zoologist, Liz De Beer. Now, those of you who know me, know I was writing just what I know about. The character is loosely modeled on two South African female Zoologists. We got a complaining critique – they enjoyed the rest of the book, but the authors plainly knew nothing about South Africans. Liz was simply an American woman, who sounded and behaved and thought like an American woman with a few irrelevant bits of fake foreign-ness from people who knew nothing about South Africa.
Huh. I wrote her in the entirety. I’d spent a whole 10 days in the US, ever. If Liz sounded and behaved ‘American’, the problem wasn’t my ignorance of South Africans of her background, culture, and education.
The problem was that the reader had their own illusion of what a ‘South African’ was. I realize, now, with the 20:20 vision of hindsight, that what they wanted was for Liz to be their caricature stereotype of a ‘bad white South African’ and I had written something ‘false’ because instead I showed her as just as human as an American woman. I have news for them – people aren’t caricatures, or stereotypes. Not even Pommie bastards or Frog-eaters – we know that, just as we call them that. I know my French and English cousins well. The family likeness of character over-rides the differences of language and culture, and we’re very fond of each other, respect and trust each other and insult each other a great deal. People are varied, and some of them will be very like you in what they do and feel and want. And some vast differences may exist… but I can’t, honestly, write something that fits their delusions to feed their bigotry. And I am far from the only author facing this. This American of Korean extraction found the same situation.
We are different. But we’re not caricatures or stereotypes. And most of us bleed red.