I know that I have this legacy that will endure long after this mortal envelope become worm food and people have forgotten my name. I have, through the dint of unreserved effort and natural talent not granted to you lesser mortals, achieved much in the field which is my métier: being a good bad example. Indeed, I shall live on in the memory of mankind as a legend, immortalized in minatory tales to the tender young ‘uns which all go something like: ‘don’t be that guy!’
So: my immortality is assured. What are you guys going to do?
Heh. Ok, as you can tell it’s not something that troubles me much. I figure my reputation while I’m alive might sell a few books, but otherwise I’m not deeply concerned about what the world thinks of me right now, let alone when I’m dead. There are a few people whose opinion of me matters to me – but that’s not most of the world, and certainly I have no craving for respect from people I don’t respect.
But I gather this is fairly odd. That most folk worry a lot about what people in say Europe, that they have never met, and will never meet, think of them, because of things they personally had very little or nothing to do with. (Speaking an ex-South African, I can assure you I had nothing at all to do with the vuvuzela. But if you want to blame me, feel free. I have broad shoulders. I also caused the oceans to rise and boil, Kudzu, and the heat-death of the sun. And, miserable sod that I am, I didn’t care that women and children were worst affected, especially by the last. I do feel a little twinge about Kudzu. If only I had caused the rising and boiling first…)
Still, one of the aspects of a legacy, is — if like mine, in theory those getting it don’t have to repeat it. It’s a theory which doesn’t hold up too well in practice, but slowly at least most people learn not to put their tongue onto the frozen flagpole without doing it.
The other aspect, of course, is that one can build a lot higher, starting from on the shoulders of giants rather than on the rubble you’ve left of their statues.
Where this particularly relevant is when all you can really claim fame for is pulling down statues. It’s what you’ve taught and set an example as, and are known for.
Guess what you set yourself up for? And they probably won’t wait until you’re dead. Which has a sort of poetic justice to it.
The downside of course is the collateral damage to the field.
Now, what brought this subject to mind of the monkey? I was supposed to be typing Shakespeare…
It was the comments of various current dahlings of the publishing world and camp-followers having a fine time attacking Heinlein. Now, you’d think after all these years of their bashing away that the statue would have fallen over, but plainly it still looms large in their minds anyway. I’m kind of put in mind of the comment by a black academic that nothing had done more to raise white identity politics than knocking down statues and getting rid of flags that, before, that no-one had given much thought to.
I suppose if you’re a pigmy, knocking down the huge figures of the past might make you feel less insignificant and irrelevant, but – other than creating more division and opposition, it seems pretty pointless. So: because I’d rather build the field up (probably another of my good bad example mistakes, at least in the Award Winning stakes) I thought I’d write about a couple of legend-level authors whose shoulders are worth standing on: Keith Laumer and Poul Anderson.
Now, I admit I’ve got more novels by either of them than I have by Heinlein – and I have a lot of Heinlein. That’s not an insult to Heinlein – just a case of buying what was available in South Africa at the time. And one other major factor… They both wrote prolifically. Laumer with career interrupted by a stroke was something near 60 book, and a bunch of shorts, Anderson… So there is first shoulder standing point.
The second point about both… is they wrote all over the place, genre wise. From Three hearts and Three Lions (A book I particularly enjoyed), to The Boat of Million Years (which honestly I didn’t). From Galactic Odyssey (which I enjoyed) to the World Shuffler (which I found less to my taste). It’s something I have tried to imitate – writing books across the spectrum of the genre. As a rule of thumb I find around 80% of the readers I’ve been able to ask, follow me across sub-genres. But – while they’re all fans, and will buy it if I write it – ones who love the Alternate history/fantasy series find books like RATS BATS & VATS less appealing. The Karres fans will buy any Karres book in Hardcover, but won’t buy DRAGON’S RING in hardcover. BUT they do generate sales across the range. And… well, if all your books fit in a narrow niche or in a series in that niche, you may just not get that breakout. Look at my co-author Eric Flint: His 1632 books far outsold anything else he’s ever done.
The other feature that Anderson in particular brought to bear was that his characters were both complex and likeable. In fact – and this so missing in many of ‘knock down the old giants’ work – even his heroes’ antagonists are very real and not necessarily villains, at least in their own eyes, or the eyes of the cultures they are drawn from. I suppose when the villains all have to be straw-white-male-conservatives, a wholly imaginary creation, as the author doesn’t actually know any, that’s not surprising. It’s a weakness none-the-less.
Which leads into another little lesson: you can’t always write about what you know about. I mean, while I frequently meet alien life-forms (invertebrates anyway) I still lack experience in FTL travel – but what both Laumer and Anderson did was to lever on things they DID have experience with. Laumer’s experience in the diplomatic corps shows in the Retief books (and I’m not always sure where the line of satire and reality actually is.) Anderson – in writing Three Hearts and Three Lions was writing about a Denmark he actually knew. Use the real and known to effectively suspend the reader’s disbelief. Then you can load up with baloney.
As a final comment something that recurs in Anderson’s work is something I know from personal experience. It’s a form of casual discrimination and bigotry that is all too common in modern fiction, and is reflected very much in the attitudes of the modern US left (and most traditionally published modern authors are a subset of that): Primitive, or less educated people… as Anderson so well illustrates in ‘The High Crusade’ are not necessarily stupid or incompetent – in fact they are probably more highly selected for being competent and able BECAUSE they survive and thrive in primitive conditions and with having to think for themselves instead of having it done for them. Anderson was dead right on this. And, within their environment, it’s you who are incompetent and uneducated. And, um, having been the proverbial fly on the wall more than a few times (where the so called primitives forgot I wasn’t just one of them), they understand this bigotry. Some just resent it. Others use it to manipulate the ‘superior’ people. After all if you’re going to give handouts for being xyz – they’ll tell you they are what you believe. The dumb ones will start believing it. The smarter ones will know it is bullshit, but some will take it as the lever it is.
Look, think of a NYC dwelling Tor Books acquiring editor. And think of a North Dakota ranch hand. The former went to an Ivy-league college for her Arts Degree, and would consider herself infinitely superior to the ranch hand, who she would regard as a deplorable, stupid redneck, that the world would be better without. The latter left school as soon as possible, but reads quite a lot as long as he can find books he likes. There’s a lot of quiet evenings out there. If he thinks of someone like the editor at all, he’d regard her as useless and, yes, dumb. Clueless about the things that matter. I doubt if he’s as cheerfully genocidal as she is, but he doesn’t think it would destroy his world if Godzilla visited NYC instead of Tokyo. Take the two of them… and swap places, and you have Anderson’s point in a modern context rather than a historical one. Which one of them can cope with the other’s world? Not like it, just cope, do the other’s job, survive the conditions. Who knows, we might get better books chosen. But there’d be a dead woman out there in a paddock.
And therein lies the truth about writing too. Those ‘dumb old men’… would probably lick the modern dahlings six ways to breakfast. The inverse is not true.